Benjamin Short 13/05/2006

Rain. Screaming seagulls. Hen night slappers in kiss-me-quick hats. All the fun of the fair. Oh, we don't like to be beside the seaside. But tonight, Blackpool welcomes international art-rock superstars Radiohead, playing new material on their first UK tour since 2003.

Previously unheard songs include the brief, pounding instrumental 'Spooks' and 'Nude', a track which has been missing in action for almost a decade. '15 Step' is a song of immense beauty, which exhibits all the hallmarks of a future classic. Thom's drumming on 'Bangers and Mash' is surprisingly competent, and Johnny and Ed propel the pounding rhythm of 'There There', leaving bassist Colin Greenwood as the only member of Radiohead not to undertake percussive duties. The most emphatic audience freakouts are reserved for 'The National Anthem' 'Ideoteque', and 'Paranoid Android'. A divine rendition of 'How to Disappear Completely' from 'Kid A' is dedicated to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who Thom describes simply as “an angel”, and 'Karma Police' provokes a mass singalong. On 'Pyramid Song', Johnny produces a bow to play his guitar cello-style, whilst the encore features 'The Bends', and 'Just' from the album of the same title.

As ever, Radiohead are a formidable, note-perfect spectacle, but still something intangible is lacking. In the years since the groundbreaking release of 'OK Computer', Thom, Ed, Johnny, Colin and Phil have strived relentlessly forward, with contempt for radio-friendly tunes such as 'Creep' and 'No Surprises'. Now, free from the constraints of the major label hegemony and its inherent hype and expectation, Radiohead should be at the zenith of their artistic powers, but instead they are lost at sea. Their notoriously miserable fans (what other band would come on stage to the sound of a Samaritans advertisement, as Radiohead did tonight?) are disillusioned with the lack of conviction and coherence that has characterised Radiohead's recent output. With the release of 'The Eraser', Thom's side project, imminent in July, the future of the world's most obstinate rock group has seldom been in greater doubt.