This feature originally ran in late January. Radiohead’s 2016 tour begins on Friday.
Radiohead is famously restless in the studio: building songs up, stripping them down, standing every idea on its head in endless permutations. The great appeal of the live shows, however, isn’t witnessing this perfectionism brought to life; it’s not the hits; it’s not the explosive chemistry of this era’s strangest arena rock band; it’s not even Thom Yorke’s twitchy dad-dancing — although any of these alone might be worth the price of admission. No, the joy of a Radiohead concert is that Radiohead have taken their meticulously arranged discography and started over from the beginning. It’s the philosophy that albums and live shows are very different and the perfect arrangement of a song depends on how the audience is hearing it. That, and other details, including the band’s mood.
Radiohead hasn’t brought their ever-shifting setlists on tour since 2012, and fans are looking forward to hearing more than just their new favorites from A Moon Shaped Pool. Now entering their third decade together, they have nine studio records under the belt along with an engrossing collection of B-sides, all of which are always changing, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, like the men who made them. Will that fiery rock song stay a rock song? Will the ballad that always makes you cry have you up and dancing? Will they play your favorite B-side or anything written before Kid A? Our writers weigh in on the songs from the band’s catalog that have us crossing our fingers.
What songs are you absolutely dying to hear? Let us know in the comments section below!
“The Amazing Sounds of Orgy”
Radiohead didn’t pull out this Amnesiac B-side onstage until March of 2012, when they debuted it in Dallas. If anything, “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” has only gotten better with time, its obliquely apocalyptic themes converging on the reality we live daily. Some of Thom Yorke’s Bush-era lyrics now sound solidly implanted in the early aughts, but “Orgy” rings with a paranoia that’s much older than the band and will probably outlast them. It’s not a festival stomper, but who doesn’t want to hear Yorke hiss about “the day the banks collapsed on us”? It’s even got a happy ending: “So glad/ So glad/ You’re mine.” –Sasha Geffen
The arrangement on the album is sparse, almost bare: piano, voice, and a few restless drums. A rendition faithful to In Rainbows might find most of the band taking a bathroom break, which could be why one of the great standout singles from that record has been performed less than 100 times, according to the essential resources at Setlist.fm. And yet, some of the live versions on Youtube are thrilling. The drums are urgent, almost danceable, and guitars swell the middle of the song to heroic proportions — a stark contrast to the quiet beginning and soft, wistful end. –Wren Graves
“Fake Plastic Trees”
Josh, Cher’s older brother from the ’90s classic Clueless, isn’t the only fan of this Bends slow-burner. The song is easily one of the most recognizable to even casual Radiohead fans, though it never received the same exposure as their biggest alt radio hits. Rather, “Fake Plastic Trees” has earned its fandom because it is an emotional jackhammer, its two quiet verses and one very loud verse not heard at a Radiohead show since the band played a small gig at the Fonda in 2010. Even if Cher would call it “complaint rock,” the song would still soar more than 20 years after it was written. –Philip Cosores
“How to Disappear Completely”
It may have appeared a dozen or so times during Radiohead’s last stretch of touring in 2012, but “How to Disappear Completely” deserves a more consistent go on their 2016 jaunt. The song is one of their quietest and most subtle masterpieces, and that’s exactly why as a live piece it could fit in almost any set, regardless of what sonic textures their new album employs. The song represents the sad and beautiful compositions more frequent during the first half of the band’s career, but isn’t as reliant on traditional song structure, making it a sort of ideal middle ground to bridge older Radiohead and their newer work. –Philip Cosores
“Polyethylene (Parts 1 and 2)”
The internet, with its dispiriting facts and damnable figures, has informed me that Radiohead hasn’t performed either part of “Polyethylene” since 1998. But even statistics have to be assembled by fallible humans, and anyway, bands change their mind, which is why I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to witness the greatest B-side from the OK Computer sessions live in concert. Boasting an epic rock melody and soaring guitars, it could easily have found a place on the album proper — and probably would have in the hands of less disciplined artists. Then again, on their 2012 tour, Radiohead barely played OK Computer’s hits. Oh, well. Fingers crossed. –Wren Graves
Back on their 2001 tour in support of Amnesiac, Radiohead busted out “Knives Out” nearly every night — a given considering it was one of the album’s singles. But that was then. Now, 15 years later, hearing the album cut would be a blessing. Its jazz-styled drums and soft cymbals pool out in a way that can silence an arena crowd, though Thom Yorke’s voice usually does that all by itself, even if its threatening lyrics about social Darwinism should strike up fear. Since that tour, Radiohead has only played it 13 times, the last of which was in 2008. So, yeah. It’s time we hear the world’s most peaceful kill-or-be-killed song live again. –Nina Corcoran
“True Love Waits”
A couple months ago, I wrote: “The debate for the best non-album Radiohead cut is one for another time and place, but any list that doesn’t include ‘True Love Waits’ would be woefully incomplete.” With its inclusion as the closer of A Moon Shaped Pool, the song is no longer a dog in that race and all the more likely to find its way onto setlists. As purely a live song, it was one of the band’s subtlest moments, the song’s haunting plea standing as one of Yorke’s most impassioned vocal performances. After hearing its studio version, of which colleague Nina Corcoran writes, “A song of intimacy and surviving on lollipops and crisps now becomes melancholy, begging not to be abandoned,” there’s no less reason to believe it will make for a breathtaking moment on the group’s upcoming tour. –David Sackllah
Back in 2012, Radiohead debuted this Kid A instrumental in France at their first performance following the tragic stage collapse in Toronto, which resulted in the death of drum tech Scott Johnson. At the time, the ambient track was used to open up their encore, a smart placement that offered up a relaxing bridge between the initial set’s closer of “Paranoid Android” and the following number, “Give Up the Ghost”. Since then, they’ve only played it once more — the following night, actually — so they’d be wise to bring it back for this year’s run of dates. If they do, and you hear loud applause, that’s probably me. –Michael Roffman
Odds are they’re gonna play this gem, right? Why else would it pop up online? It’s not like Radiohead is bitter or anything about losing out to Sam Smith. Plus, if we collectively forget that it was originally written for James Bond, it could eventually turn into a one-off single that fans come to love forever and ever and ever. You know, like “These Are My Twisted Words”. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice to hear, too? Eh, let’s start with “Spectre” first. By the way, anyone else not see that film? –Michael Roffman
“Bulletproof..I Wish I Was”
Way, way back in 2008, when Radiohead first landed stateside to promote In Rainbows, the boys dusted off this incredibly depressing song off The Bends late into the set. There was hope from fans — or maybe just me — that the quiet, little ditty would be a tour staple, but that just wasn’t meant to be. To be fair, they did book a handful of festivals that summer, and this song is just not prime for an obnoxious crowd of drunk festivalgoers, so there’s one reason why. Though, considering they’re set to appear at a handful of fests this year, that argument should still stand, but here’s hoping we get lucky. –Michael Roffman