Forty-seven thousand creeps and weirdos flocked to Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park to hear Radiohead play in the Jewish state for the first time in 17 years on Wednesday night, despite the hot, muggy weather and in appreciation of the band’s robust defiance of calls by boycott-Israel activists that it cancel the show.
Those tens of thousands of fans, plus the hordes who saved the ticket price and listened to the concert on the grass beyond the gates, were treated to the longest Radiohead concert in 11 years, according to a Reddit tally.
Toward what seemed like the end of the show, lead singer Thom Yorke, who’d been relatively quiet all night, told the fans: “We ain’t done yet. We came all the way here. We’re gonna play our fingers off.”
Other than perfunctory “Thank yous” and a bit of Israeli slang, “yalla” (come on), which drew whoops of approval from the crowd, Yorke’s only other brief on-stage comments during the show had to do with some of the controversy surrounding the Tel Aviv performance.
In the months leading up to the show, a group of activists who support cultural boycotts of Israel called for Radiohead to cancel the concert, as they routinely urge all visiting artists, over Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians. Unlike many artists — a minority of whom cancel, and most of whom go ahead with their shows and ignore the critics — Radiohead responded fiercely to the pro-BDS pressure campaign, calling it patronizing and saying that their playing in Israel does not signify approval of the government’s policies.
Yorke didn’t go into the details of the argument, but merely told the crowd quietly, “A lot of stuff was said about this. But in the end, we played some music,” before launching into the final song of the night, “Karma Police” from its hit album “OK Computer.”
The concert was part of the band’s tour for its latest album “A Moon Shaped Pool” and also for the 20th anniversary of “OK Computer.”
The legendary British rock group performed 27 songs from across its 25-year history, including the one that launched it to stardom in Israel: “Creep.” (The band’s longest concert, at Bonnaroo in 2006, had one more song.)
Yorke, clad in tight black jeans, a V-neck, a week’s worth of stubble and a man-bun, introduced the beloved 1992 hit — it was released as a single before coming out on 1993’s “Pablo Honey” — with recollections from the band’s first time in Israel, a three-night performance in Tel Aviv. “So, uh, in 1993 we came here. Somewhere called the Roxan. Didn’t we Johnny?” Yorke asked guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who is married to an Israeli woman he met on the tour.
“I think we played this one,” Yorke said, before launching into the song, along with seemingly every person in the park.
“I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here,” the throngs of fans sang.
The fans at Wednesday night’s performance were a mixed bunch. There were people in their 30s and 40s who had high school memories of Radiohead and had perhaps attended one of the band’s previous Israeli shows in the 1990s or 2000. There were also fans who might not have been born when “OK Computer,” widely considered their breakout effort, was released in 1997, who were likely little more than a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when Army Radio DJ Yoav Kutner played “Creep” for the first time in 1992.
Unlike Saturday night’s Guns and Roses concert, there were no serious injuries at the Radiohead show. However, Magen David Adom medics treated 39 people for dehydration, weakness, exhaustion and excessive alcohol consumption, including one who needed to be taken to the hospital.
Yorke’s point that the fans who listen to the music are not the same as their government could be seen clearly during the band’s performance of the song “No Surprises.”
When Yorke reached the lyrics, “Bring down the government, they don’t speak for us,” an unprompted cheer of approval swept through the crowd. It seemed that many of the 50,000 creeps and weirdos in attendance were not Likud voters.
Radiohead opened the show with “Daydreaming,” followed by “Lucky.” The band kept the mood relaxed with “Ful Stop,” off its new album “A Moon Shaped Pool,” and “Airbag” from “OK Computer.”
But the band then turned the swaying fans a-hopping with “15 Step,” a jaunty tune with a bouncy beat. It kept the energy high with “Myxomatosis,” from “Hail to the Thief,” before chilling out the crowd with “All I Need” and “Pyramid Song,” from the 2001 album “Amnesiac.”
“Let Down” from “OK Computer” — did I mention it’s the album’s 20th anniversary? — perked the crowd back up. A few songs off the two newest albums — “Bloom” from “King of Limbs” and “Identikit” from “A Moon Shaped Pool” — were well received, though not apparently identified by most of the crowd.
The bitter and angry “2+2=5” from “Hail to the Thief” — an album almost entirely dedicated to hating then-president George W. Bush — got the crowd riled up and singing along.
“You can scream and you can shout. It is too late now…” Yorke crooned, right before the drums came in hard and the fans joined in.
“Because you have not been paying attention! Paying attention! Paying attention! Paying attention!” the crowd sang.
The equally cynical and irritated-sounding lyrics of “Idioteque,” also from “Hail to the Thief,” struck a chord with the audience as well.
The band left the stage after “Idioteque” for a brief intermission, before coming back out for the first of two encores and thrilling the crowd with “No Surprises” and other fan favorites “Paranoid Android” and “Like Spinning Plates.”
The musicians left the stage again after “The Reckoner,” coming back on for the aforementioned banter and “Creep.”
Yorke noted that the next song they played, “The Bends,” was “also probably played” during their first Tel Aviv concerts in 1993.
Yorke et al. moved on to “There There,” at which point the band had three drum kits going on-stage at once. Drummer Philip Selway played the main kit; Jonny Greenwood played a smaller drum kit; and Ed O’Brien played bongos with percussion mallets.
Radiohead ended on “Karma Police” from “OK Computer,” with Yorke leading the crowd through an extra round of the chorus. “For a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself. Phew, for a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself.”