Watch Radiohead Perform In Rainbows & The King of Limbs in Intimate Live Settings, with No Host or Audience

Over the past twen­ty years Radio­head man­aged to achieve some­thing no oth­er rock band ever has: endur­ing out­sider art rock cred­i­bil­i­ty that shield­ed them from the media machin­ery they came to loathe at the end of the mil­len­ni­um, and endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty that meant they could drop their last, 2016 LP, A Moon Shaped Pool “with­out doing a sin­gle inter­view and it still topped the charts all over the world,” Rolling Stone writes,” even if Drake and Bey­once kept them stuck at Num­ber Three in Amer­i­ca.” How did they do it?

Twen­ty years ago, New York­er music writer Alex Ross described pop music as “in a state of sus­pense. On the one hand, the Top Forty chart is over­run with dancers, mod­els, actors, and the like; on the oth­er hand, there are signs that pop music is once again becom­ing a safe place for cre­ative musi­cians. The world fame of Radio­head is a case in point.” Do we still see a dichoto­my between “dancers, mod­els, actors” and “cre­ative musi­cians” like Radio­head in pop music? Per­haps it was a false one to begin with.

Despite their ambiva­lence about pop (and halls of fame), Radio­head hasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want­ed to be pegged as stan­dard bear­ers of the avant garde either. As drum­mer Phil Sel­way put it in the year they released Amne­sia, the sec­ond of two of the most baf­fling­ly oblique, yet strange­ly dance­able rock albums in pop­u­lar music: “we don’t want peo­ple twid­dling their goa­tees over our stuff. What we do is pure escapism.” Yet after OK Com­put­er, they emerged sound­ing like a band try­ing to escape itself.

They nev­er want­ed to be a col­lec­tion of celebri­ties. They were hap­pi­est in the base­ment, co-cre­at­ing a sound that is cer­tain­ly greater than the sum of its parts but is also very much, Ross writes, the sum of its parts: “Take away any one ele­ment — Selway’s flick­er­ing rhyth­mic grid, for exam­ple, fierce in exe­cu­tion and trip­py in effect — and Radio­head are a dif­fer­ent band.” Even their pro­grammed, elec­tron­ic beats sound like Selway’s play­ing. “The five togeth­er form a sin­gle mind, with its own habits and tics — the Radio­head Com­pos­er.”

After det­o­nat­ing expec­ta­tions that they’d con­tin­ue on as a typ­i­cal are­na rock band, they were free to make music that met no one’s expec­ta­tions but their own. That cre­ative free­dom unleashed in the next two decades a hand­ful of albums solid­i­fy­ing their sta­tus as “Knights Tem­plar of rock and roll” because of their will­ing­ness to change and adapt, while always play­ing to their strengths: their sin­gle-mind­ed­ness when play­ing togeth­er and the refined song­writ­ing of Thom Yorke, show­cased solo in the first episode of their pro­duc­er Nigel Godrich’s “From the Base­ment” series. As men­tioned in anoth­er recent post, the series fea­tured inti­mate live music per­for­mances of bands, with­out a host or audi­ence.

In lat­er episodes, how­ev­er, from 2008 and 2011, respec­tive­ly, fur­ther up, the band played the full albums In Rain­bows and The King of Limbs to per­fec­tion. Under the for­mer video, on their YouTube page, one com­menter jokes, “what a great band. I hope they can get out of the base­ment some­day.” It’s fun­ny because it seems like that’s exact­ly where they’d rather be. See more live per­for­mances from the “From the Base­ment” series here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Inti­mate Live Per­for­mances of Radio­head, Son­ic Youth, the White Stripes, PJ Har­vey & More: No Host, No Audi­ence, Just Pure Live Music

Radio­head Will Stream Con­certs Free Online Until the Pan­dem­ic Comes to an End

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke Per­forms Songs from His New Sound­track for the Hor­ror Film, Sus­piria

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Susan Barry says:

    THANK YOU RADIOHEAD. Not only is your music is so pure and bril­liant, but you are a very non-greedy band. Real and true human beings. It is not always about the mon­ey. As you have demon­strat­ed numer­ous times. I love you and feel lucky to be alive while you are still writ­ing and play­ing music. Keep up the great work you pro­duce. It tru­ly soothes my soul, par­tic­u­lar­ly Thom’s voice.…. THANK YOU!!! I for one, tru­ly appre­ci­ate it Susan xox

  • Susan Barry says:

    THANK YOU RADIOHEAD. You are the best band in the world and the least greedy. Your music soothes my soul. I feel lucky to be alive whilst you are writ­ing, play­ing and pro­duc­ing all the music you are doing. I for one, tru­ly appre­ci­ate it. You are not just a Bril­liant band, but your are also real human beings who por­tray that it’s NOT always about mon­ey. Thank you again!!! Susan xox

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