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Required listening for newcomers
on 4 March 2011
Despite the amount of time they spend in the studio - which is considerable, as anyone who waited for In Rainbows will tell you - it's worth remembering that Radiohead are an absolutely amazing live band. Songs can transform entirely when played in the light of day, or start out one way live and go through the wringer in the studio. For a Radiohead fan this can mean two great versions of a lot of great songs. But it also means, for some reason, there are no live albums.
You could argue that the lack of a full live album - and the existence of this brisk live EP, numbering eight tracks taken from the band's "difficult" albums, Kid A and Amnesiac - is due to the encyclopaedic bootlegging that goes on within the fanbase. Radiohead don't especially need to put out live material, as anyone can get hold of it just by using the internet. So I Might Be Wrong isn't here to encapsulate the live Radiohead experience. It doesn't feature Just, Paranoid Android or any of the band's famed earlier guitar stuff. This suggests, to me, a further attempt to make you take those two specific albums seriously, not just as studio ordeals but as rock music. Everything beforehand sounded ready-made for stadiums anyway.
This marks the first time I heard The National Anthem live, and what a difference it makes. Played ever so slightly faster, the song becomes a ferocious live beast, swirling confidently around Colin Greenwood's spectacular bass-line. (Given that Thom played it on Kid A, perhaps the purpose of I Might Be Wrong is to get Colin's work some recognition, poor bloke.) Similar alchemy occurs with I Might Be Wrong, the previously gentle-yet-alarmist guitar picking made faster, angrier, until it's another bona fide rocker.
I can't pretend I was thrilled to come across Morning Bell a third time - versions are already found on both the band's 2000-era albums, and hearing it live doesn't make a big difference to the Kid A cut. Still, to the extent that I like it, I like it here too.
Better, and a great case for this release, is Like Spinning Plates. Possibly the strangest thing on Amnesiac, all backwards-noises and imitated reverse-speak, the song here becomes a piano ballad of fluid beauty, barely recognisable until some heroic bloke in the audience suddenly realises and cheers the title. (It's at 0:45.) It's an indispensible example of Radiohead's lateral thinking, and the apparently endless creative process that goes into these songs.
Idioteque is, well, still great and all live, but the appeal would seem to mostly be Thom's wacky dance skills. It's still enjoyable hearing a particularly odd moment of Kid A working just fine live, played more or less as it was, even if it's among the least memorable live examples here because of that. Popular (and transcendent) live closer Everything In Its Right Place sounds great as per, but it's placed here before the rather less exciting Dollars & Cents, rather than at the end, which rounds off the Kid A / Amnesiac live experience with more whimper than bang.
There is an addendum: True Love Waits, or the one that got away. Time has moved on since this unrecorded song would have fit on any of their albums, so I Might Be Wrong acts as a time capsule, giving fans a chance to hear a sweet acoustic gem, seemingly written during a different life. Together with the transformation of Like Spinning Plates, the impressive rock evolution of National Anthem and I Might Be Wrong, and the (imitated, rather than captured) experience of Idioteque and Everything In Its Right Place played to crowds, this EP is worth it. It's not the band's greatest or most satisfying release, but few are likely to argue it is. For newcomers to the band, though, required listening.
NB: I'd rate this at three-and-a-half stars, if Amazon did half stars.