Tour buddies: Not just anyone can play guitar: Radiohead’s most memorable support acts

A spot opening for Thom Yorke and co. is like music’s very own golden ticket. With Shabazz Palaces and Holly Herndon stepping up at the Roundhouse, we revisit a few Radiohead tour alumni.

In terms of lucrative leg-ups, being chosen to support Radiohead on tour has long been seen as one of the golden tickets of rock music. Being provided with the chance to travel the world, eat seitan with Thom Yorke and piss about in soundchecks with megawatt PA systems sounds fun an’ all, but more important is the fact you get to do all that having being stamped with an official, intangible Radiohead “seal of approval”. This means that when show time comes around - rather than playing graveyard shifts in front of 2 men and their dogs - crowds are instead made up of musically switched on, conscientious listeners with a genuine interest in what you have to say. Nail this one, then who knows; next time maybe it’ll be you saddling up in the Starcruiser lounger instead of the murky transit van.

Shabazz Palaces and Holly Herndon are the latest artists to be anointed; joining a golden list of names including Pulp, Four Tet, Massive Attack, Liars and, erm.. David Gray (seriously).

Here, we cast an eye over some of the Oxford Angel’s recent warm-up picks, and probe how – if at all – the much-coveted slot impacted on their future prospects.

Deerhoof

Deerhoof were 10 years deep into their career when they received the call to join up with Radiohead on the ‘In Rainbows’ tour, and were still riding high from the still fresh release of 2005’s The ‘Runners Four’ – arguably their career opus. By showcasing their hitherto strongest material to audience numbers they could have previously only dreamed of, it’s been said that the art-punkers could finally give up their day jobs once the tour had wound up.

Drummer Greg Saunier worked on 2007’s ‘Friend Opportunity’ from the road, and admitted that he’d get back to his hotel after the headline show only to realise that, perhaps somewhat harshly, most of his mixes “sounded garbage in comparison”. Jonny [Greenwood] obviously disagreed; initially offering to play whizzy electronic instrument ondes Martenot on the record, only to renege when hearing the “already done” mixes.

Bat For Lashes

Already a Mercury nominee when announced as tour support in 2008, Natasha Khan’s inclusion for the UK leg of the ‘In Rainbows’ tour came at the behest of a Thom Yorke executive order. In an interview with Pitchfork, Yorke claimed he was transfixed by the “sexual ghost voices and bowed saws” of track ‘Horse and I’, and that it was “something from the world of Grimm’s fairytales”.

The two remain close friends from the tour experience to this day, with Yorke playing a vital role in pulling the singer out from a hellish bout of writers block during the recording of her follow- up 2012 album, ‘Two Suns’.

MGMT

Back in 2008, MGMT were well on course to become one of the biggest bands on the planet having comfortably cleared over a million copies of their debut album, ‘Oracular Spectacular’. That same year, the Brooklyn psych duo’s near overnight rise to stardom was crowned when, alongside Bat for Lashes, they were invited to open for Radiohead at Old Trafford Cricket Ground.

Frontman Andrew Vanwyngarden later complained of horrific nerves throughout the show: which was understandable given they’d started the year playing to crowds in 100 capacity max venues.

Beck

As you can probably gather from the myriad of projects they’ve either shared or worked on together by this point, Beck and Radiohead go way back. In 2001 it was Beck who served as main support when the band took a break from the ‘Amnesiac’ tour to perform at their mini South Park homecoming festival, and it was a hook up they would repeat five years later when road testing new ‘In Rainbows’ material.

By that point Beck was already heavily involved with Nigel Godrich, who had overseen production on his previous ‘Mutations’ and ‘Sea Change’ records. These slots, however, gave a first look into Beck’s re-entry to the world of batshit samples and electronics via ‘The Information’; corroborating Godrich’s view that he wanted it to be “a hip-hop album”.

Caribou

Given the fact he’s tee-total, holds a maths PHD and regularly invites friends onto his tour bus to deliver guest lectures, on paper Caribou’s Dan Smith makes for the perfect Radiohead bedfellow.

Despite selling out his own tours and finding unexpected success with breakthrough album ‘Swim’, it was joining Radiohead on their ‘King of Limbs’ jaunt which caused the record to really blow up, with sales figures eventually eclipsing the 175,000 mark. Caribou also served as main support for the band’s sold out Mexico City shows, which were played over two nights in front of 120,000 fans.

Sigur Rós

In the earliest days of Sigur Rós, the band took a vow that they would “never perform as a support act”, and while such an outlook is always admirable, it was one that understandably went out the window when the chance to hook up with Radiohead on the ‘Kid A’ ‘big top’ tour presented itself back in 2000.

Radiohead are often credited with discovering Sigur Rós, but the group were already well on their way by the time the FatCat-backed ‘Agaetis Byrun’ was released around the same time. Still, performing it to over 12,000 punters each night for 10 days wouldn’t have done the Icelanders any harm in terms of exposure.

Grizzly Bear

Radiohead must be well versed in dealing with ardent fanboys and fangirls by this point, but on the last day of the ‘In Rainbows’ US tour it was Jonny’s turn to get carried away when he stepped up to the mic for the first time ever to thank his “favourite band in the world”, Grizzly Bear. Throughout the tour, the usually taciturn guitarist also regularly performed in a Grizzly Bear t-shirt. Awwwh.

Like Deerhoof, touring with Radiohead couldn’t have come at a better time for the folk-rock experimentalists; exposing them to huge audiences as they put the finishing touches to breakthrough pop record ‘Veckatimest’. Around the same time they would perform ‘Two Weeks’ on Letterman, and within months could count the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce as celebrity fans.

Radiohead kick off three nights at London’s Roundhouse tonight (26th May).


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