Nostalgia isn’t a quality that Radiohead are particularly well known for, yet Friday night (June 23) saw the Oxford art rockers roll back the years to deliver a career-spanning semi-greatest hits set that drew the first night of Glastonbury to a dazzling, at times frustrating, and ultimately emotional close.
Headlining the festival for the third time, the gig marked 20 years since the band’s legendary rain-sodden 1997 performance, often called one of the best shows in Glastonbury’s 47-year history.
Friday night’s set also came on the same day that their deluxe reissue of OK Computer, also 20 years old this summer, was released — an occasion that the band marked by dusting off a handful of its finest moments, such as “Airbag,” “Lucky,” and a rousing “Paranoid Android,” with its chorus refrain of “God loves his children,” transformed into an unlikely mass sing-along by the thousands watching.
As is Radiohead’s way, there were more than a fair few perplexing, meandering and frankly dull moments in the two-hour set, where their challenging experimental electronica and Thom Yorke’s pained warbling fell flat, leading the crowd to thin out long before the end.
Those who remained were, however, treated to faultless renditions of some of the finest rock songs of the past 25 years, including “Street Spirit,” a thrillingly frenetic “Everything In It’s Right Place,” stirring “Pyramid Song,” beautiful “No Surprises” and rousing rendition of “Fake Plastic Trees,” all of which were accompanied by a dazzling epileptic fit inducing light show and crackling abstract visuals.
Audience interaction was characteristically light, although there were a number of well received political references with a frenzied Yorke chanting “strong and stable” — a campaign message of Britain’s much maligned Prime Minister Theresa May — at the end of “Myxomatosis.”
“See You later, Theresa, shut the door on the way out,” jeered York at one point to loud cheers from the left-leaning crowd.
Saving the best for last, the band ended their set with a visceral and rare (but not as rare as it once was) performance of their breakthrough anthem “Creep” and a transcendental “Karma Police.”
“For a minute there, I lost myself,” sang Yorke, acoustic guitar in hand, providing a perfect metaphor for his band’s set and, no doubt, more than one or two people in the audience.
Preceding Radiohead on the main Pyramid stage were Royal Blood, who toasted their sophomore album, How Did We Get So Dark, entering the charts at No. 1 the same day, and a delivered a blunt and bruising set of riff-heavy bass-led rock. Stand out moments included “Come On Over” and a thunderous “Lights Out.”
The first full day of this year’s so far dry and rain-free Glastonbury festival also saw performances from Lorde, wearing a floral catsuit and opening her set from within a see-through plastic box, and Kris Kristofferson, introduced by film star Bradley Cooper (filming a scene for his remake of A Star Is Born) and watched from the side of the stage by Brad Pitt.
Providing a more upbeat headline alternative to Radiohead was Major Lazer, who were joined by British pop singer Dua Lipa and four female dancers, and drew a massive crowd to the Other Stage.
Over at the John Peel Stage, Ride and Future Islands also drew large crowds, with the latter seeing frontman Samuel T. Herring in particularly fine snake-hipped form. “Lets dance, motherf—ers,” instructed the all-dancing, high-kicking, chest-beating singer as he led his band delivered a celebratory run through their back catalogue.
Noel Gallagher was also in attendance at the festival, introducing a screening of last year’s Oasis biopic Supersonic and talking for the first time about his reaction to the band’s single “Don’t Look Back In Anger” becoming an unofficial anthem of resilience in the aftermath of the May 22 Manchester Arena terrorist bomb attack that killed 22 people, many of them children.
“I was sat at home watching the minute’s silence on the news when the crowd spontaneously broke into “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and for the first time in my life I was f—ing speechless,” recalled the songwriter. “The way that people have spontaneously rallied around that song I was honestly taken aback by. And even now, weeks after the event, I still don’t know what to say about it. I know how I feel about the [attack], but the fact that people spontaneously rallied around that song is an incredible thing.”
Glastonbury continues Saturday with performances from British grime star Stormzy, Katy Perry, Foo Fighters and alt-j.