My friends warned me not to do it – don’t get involved in any kind of internet spat with Radiohead fans, they said; they’re basically indie Beliebers, they said. And yet here we are.

I’m taking the piss, obviously, though I have received a fair amount of flak in the last few days thanks to a comment I made about Radiohead in a recent interview. The comment was lazily put, which is my bad, and it was promoted to click-bait headline status (slow news day, guys?), and it left me wanting to elaborate a little on what I was trying to say in the first place.

First up, I’m a huge Radiohead fan. “Creep” is far from my favourite song of theirs, and for my money “In Rainbows” was one of their best records yet (though “King Of Limbs” didn’t do so much for me). Taken as a pair, “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” are probably my favourite albums. I’ve seen them a handful of times, and in fact have seen them play “Creep” (at Reading), and very good it was too.

Secondly, every band has (or should have) artistic autonomy, and no one can tell them what to do, whether it’s label bosses, “the fans” or snarky shitheads like me. Radiohead can play whatever set they want to play, and I’ll most likely enjoy it, and even if I didn’t, so what, right? Also (and I’d like to think this was obvious, but apparently not to some people, so here it is) I am not comparing what I do to Radiohead. Not in the same league, creatively or commercially (who is?).

The point I was trying to make, however, is that bands are not just artists. When you’re playing a live show and charging money for people to come, you’re also an entertainer, whether you like it or not. You can handle that role any number of different ways – you can just play “the hits”, or you can play none of them; you can talk to the audience, or not; you can play for four hours (Springsteen) or roll around in glass and shit (GG Allin). It’s your stage.

My frustration is with bands who see that description, “entertainer”, as some kind of slight. In some cases it’s almost like the audience is an imposition on their sacred creative act. If that’s how you feel, don’t play shows and charge people to come to them, stick to the studio. Perhaps a better example than Radiohead and “Creep” (if I’d taken the time to think before I speak, imagine that!) is Bob Dylan. When I saw him play it was just shit, and he was pretty openly trying to piss the audience off – shit setlist, played piano throughout, sang terribly and changed all the melody. Well, fine, but I won’t be coming back again, not at £60 a ticket.

I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a middle way between being slavishly populist in your set list choices, and only playing weird obscure B-sides. Dropping a song that everyone in the room wants to hear every now and again isn’t “selling out” or whatever, it’s entertaining, and that’s at least part of the job description.

Plus, the world is full of people (like me) who wish they had just one song that was that great. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Radiohead play a single song off “The Bends”, and that’s just a shame to me – they’re great songs, some of the best ever written, and I don’t want to see other people play them if Radiohead are still a touring band.

Of course, as I said, every band is free to think differently about it and play whatever the fuck they want; Radiohead won’t read this, and if they ever did they have no obligation to give a shit. Fine. Personally, I’ll continue to write my set lists to include the songs from early records that I know people want to hear. Each to their own.

30 thoughts on “Schmadiohead

  1. I hate when bands don’t make the effort. Or when they treat playing live as a chore. I know touring must be tiring, but if Springsteen can play three hour sets every other night (didn’t play Thunder Road when I saw him, but it was still the best live show I’ve seen) and still look like he genuinely loves doing it, then anyone should be able to at least slap on a fake smile for a couple hours and say thanks at the end. 

  2. Fair point but you don’t play “Thatcher” live, do you? If you’re sick of it, that’s your right.

  3. yeah he doesn’t play Thatcher anymore… so what. Every time i have seen Frank i always hear The Real Damage, Substitute, Photosynthesis, …actually pretty much half of Love Ire & Song always. 

  4. A lot of people chiming in here with, “What about Thatcher?” I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair comparison. That’s a specifically political song and Frank has gone on record to claim his political views have changed. Imagine if you were a lefty and you had once had written a song praising the Tories. Imagine people turning up and demanding you play it. You wouldn’t be inclined. Not saying I entirely agree with the blogpost or what Frank is saying (I don’t really feel strongly one way or another) but I don’t think the comparison to big popular song is right.

  5. In my humble opinion the set list can have a great affect on the audience. I saw Springsteen at IoW and for the first hour or two he played all new stuff, which I didn’t know and wasn’t really interested in so I walked off and saw a blinding performance by Ash. Alice Cooper once said that he never got sick of playing Schools Out because it was that song that put him on that stage. The opening chords and the audience reaction still sends a shiver up his spine. 

    Isn’t that part of being an Entertainer?

  6. I once sat in on an interview a friend of mine did with Charlie Pride. He was near the end of his career and playing small town arenas. Still arenas mind you. My friend asked him about his biggest hit “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” (The only song of his I knew) He asked him if he ever got tired of singing that song. Charlie chuckled and said “I have played it thousands of times and I admit there are shows when it comes to that point in the set and I think I just want to skip over it but the band plays the first few notes and the crowd goes wild and I think yeah let’s play this one again.

  7. I agree with Frank here, while there will always be ‘that’ song that is special to hear live (for me it’s Rivers) it shouldn’t be a special treat to hear it if it’s a ‘hit’..imagine not hearing Photosynthesis, or I Still wouldn’t be right.

    Anyone that saw him at Wembley heard his say he’d never play Ballad.. again, which for me was a shame as it’s a cracking song but his reasoning at the time justified his decision. Low and behold, on his recent arena tour, it is played again – and I was glad because it’s a good song for me, and us as an audience but it must also be special for Frank as its come with him all the way from Nambucca in front of say, 10-15 people now to 10,000 people. 

    Further to this, has anyone heard a studio version of this song? No, because it’s MEANT to be heard live, and taking this away ruins the entire ethos of the song.

    As for ‘entertainer’ status, I personally feel I am yet to see a live band or solo artist that fits this criteria more that Mr Turner. He listens to his fans, he throws in obscure songs if possible and if requested, and he engages with his audience, on both a personal and communal level. 

  8. I just watched violent femmes play violent femmes in its entirety- in album order- at a festival in Atlanta. They were happy, the crowd was happy, there was so much love being shared back and forth, and not one hint of sell out anywhere. It was just a whole lot of appreciation for where they were and who came with them. If you can’t respect or tap into your audience, and what they came for, it seems to me that maybe live music isn’t totally your thing.

  9. he band change (mostly) drastically with every album, though, can old songs being played live not just be a different time and place or do they have to change their band name with every few albums?

    You mention not comparing yourself to them but end by saying that personally, in comparison to them, you will continue to play old cuts from early records.

    I think whilst fan service is nice, stylistic coherency and artistic integrity should be appreciated in a setlist, Radiohead have and should have moved on, your music hasn’t ever deviated too much from your original sound so I don’t think you’re in the same position. Radiohead sell tickets for the band they are now, and they play well, unlike your Dylan comparison.

    I would be pumped to see them now because I dig their new stuff, i’ve heard their old stuff a lot because it is old, I don’t think that’s ubreasonable thinking, it makes seeing a band on more than one tour fun. There are live DVD’s for past iterations of their live career to enjoy instead, surely?

  10. Radiohead are ok to listen to, but they certainly don’t inspire me to want to pick up a guitar and try to learn to play ‘If Ever I Stray’ or ‘Recovery’. When I go to see a band live I want to feel part of the experience and not just as though it’s another stop on their ‘going through the motions tour’. Songs like ‘Photosynthesis’ and ‘I Still Believe’ are the ones that make you feel as though you’ve been part of an experience and why fans go away talking about the buzz they got from a concert and why they keep coming back. You’re welcome back to Nashville anytime Frank!

  11. Everyone making the Thatcher comparison should let me know when that song propels Frank largely to international stardom. If he stopped playing Photosynthesis you’d have a point, but he hasn’t and you don’t so, cool. 

  12. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I find it stupid that people can not have an opinion and can not express it with out being subject to pointless hate. For me at least, when I go to a concert I want to hear new stuff. But I also want to hear the songs that made me love them in the first place. The songs that you recognize from the opening chord, and it makes you want to sing at the top of your lungs and dance even if you know you can’t. I feel that if a group or person creates a song like that, that they have a once in a live time chance to touch millions of hearts and they have almost an obligation to play it. Just my opinion. You might say it’s wrong. But how can an opinion be wrong? It is how I feel about a situation and no one can claim that what I feel is wrong. You may disagree with it but it doesn’t make it wring or reason enough to hate me for it. 

  13. I think Pearl Jam are the ultimate example of what makes a great live band. Never the same set twice, no defined list, just pick the songs they want to play that day. You’ll get rare stuff, covers, album tracks and singles all included, which is probably why people go see them again and again.

    Another example of someone doing it right is Jonah Matranga, everything is in the moment, and it creates that perfect and rare feeling that the performer and the crowd are in the same place, that what you are seeing exists in the now and only for the people in that room.

  14. Ben, I agree with you. Pearl Jam are excellent live and having seen them on 5 occasions they mix it up brilliantly and still manage to get the songs in for the one time visitors. They do this while also keeping the ten club amused and guessing as to what they will play.

    Frank, whatever you play I’m happy. Great showmanship regardless! PS. Please come to Hong Kong!

  15. I agree. Using this example (as a Radiohead fan), “Creep” definitely isn’t my favourite, but I’d like to hear it live should I ever get to see them. I do get that it must be monotonous after so many years, but plenty of older bands still play older tracks regularly, and at the end of the day a lot of people are probably paying to hear them play the hits. It makes me happy that you still play older tracks, a lot of my favourites of yours are older and I’m glad there’s a chance of me being able to hear them live.

  16. It seems like the more salient point here, to me at least, (as opposed to if a band plays their biggest hit) is if a band changes their setlist.  To me this is the ultimate concert experience. When my stomach is in a knot due to the anticipation of the next unknown song and subsequently going nuts at the sound of the opening chords, there is no better feeling at a show. Springsteen, Wilco and My Morning Jacket perfect this. And they cover all the bases in doing this; a mix of deep cuts for the hardcore fans, and the hits for the casual fans. If Springsteen played a 3-hour show with the exact same setlist and nothing but the hits, it would definitely subtract from the magical experience I’ve had every time I’ve seen him. When I saw Frank, he played pretty much played the exact same setlist as the rest of the tour (I couldn’t help but look at the previous shows before mine) and as unbelievable as that show was, Frank really is an A+ performer live, I just wish I didn’t know every song that was coming. It would have made the experience THAT much better. It’s so nice to get a song a band only plays at your show only on that tour. It’s what makes your show unique. Also, I’m more likely to see multiple shows on the same tour if the band changes the setlist night-to-night. That way it’s a like a totally new experience, and not one you’ve seen before. 

    I remember at a Wilco show once, they played a rare song off their second album and Jeff Tweedy joked afterwards “I hope the 3 people who actually knew that song enjoyed it.” They know a lot of people aren’t going to know the rare songs, but they play them anyway for the hardcore fans like me. When I see Radiohead, I DON’T want them to play Creep (it’s a terrible, overplayed song on the radio), but in a way Frank is right: if Radiohead did play Creep it would get the loudest cheer of the night. This has a lot to do with the superficiality of the crowd though; like would it kill some people to dig deep into a band’s catalog? 

  17. Your show was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my 29 years of show going putting you in the same company as Prince, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop.

  18. I saw Turner before Christmas when he did a show with Bragg. He chose to play one song from every album, which was genius and one of the best live shows I’ve been to. The best part of going to a show is being part of the crowd amidst other raving fans. These shitpunks may as well make themselves a mixed tape and sit at alone in their sweatpants and Morrisey tshirts hot boxing in their cars!

  19. Frank, you’re awesome, and I think most of your fans get what you’re saying. You always seem to create the perfect mix of old, new, not-yet-recorded, and covers in your shows.

    I have yet to forgive David Bowie, who, at $45 a seat in 1995 refused to play anything from his earlier work (except “Under Pressure” in tribute to Freddie Mercury). That was by far the most money I had ever spent on a concert at the time (and the third time I’d seen him), and I was not at all entertained. Since then, as I have slowly converted my music collection from vinyl and tape (and lost, and damaged) to digital, not a single dollar has gone to the good Mr. Bowie. 

    That said, my new all-time-favorite Frank Turner song is “The Ballad of Steve.” Any chance that would make it onto your set list? 😉

  20. Frank, seeing you and the Sleeping Souls for the first time was a truly unique and wonderful experience.  With this issue I can agree.  I am a new fan this past year and am still discovering alot of what you’ve done and I enjoyed all songs of the setlist you played.  I hope you come back through Texas soon as you will be first on my list of bands to see.  

  21. Radiohead still plays several songs off the Bends (Street Spirit, Just), but for my money i want to see them play tunes off of Hail to the Thief and Kid A (which they do).  I prefer not to hear their “hits” (Paranoid Android, Karma Police), but they play them often.  The other thing that you fail to mention is that Radiohead expands and bends their songs significantly when played live.  Listening various iterations of songs over the course of various tours bares that out.  That’s what draws me to them.  There is no other band equals Radiohead relatvie to their talent and imagination at every instrument.  How many bands use the Ondes Martenot?   

    Perhaps energy could be better served working to get Universal Music Group to stop promoting artists who promote Violence, Rape, and the degradation of African American Men and Women.

  22.  Grand Wazoo, everyone knows that the measure of talent and imagination is playing the theremin with your feet.

    Absurdity, GW.  You might as well say that the proof of their talent and imagination is because they so efficiently worked the words “Radio” and “head” into their name.  If you’re going to over-value something because you want to use it as proof of your beliefs, make it less obvious.

    I have not heard any of the work of Rape, Violence, nor the Degradation of African American Men and Women.  What sort of musical genre to these three (is it three?  Or is Women a separate group?  I’m assuming three because of the Oxford Comma rule) bands play?  And who are the Universal Music Group artists who are promoting these bands?  Why isn’t Universal Music Group promoting them directly?  Is this like subletting an apartment?  I have little knowledge of the music industry as a whole.  I hardly know how to 

    randomly hit the return key while




  23. Absolutely! If Radiohead want to go the Glenn Gould route and create perfect studio recordings devoid of any human emotion that is their prerogative. But don’t go on tour and sneer at your fans like troglodytes for wanting to hear a recognizable hit or two. Frank, I’ll see you in Boston, and please don’t think less of me for wanting to hear “I Still Believe”.

  24. Hear hear. I like your…relevant choice of photograph too…. ^_~

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