The moon smiled and was gone, hidden behind the main stage, where some huge unknown warm-up act – who we tolerated purely for what was to come – winked at the girls. Condensation ran down my fingers as I clutched the beer that would see me through this long wait where time trickled like sand – but what was three hours when you’d waited three years?
As this minor band left, the pack flowed forward, squeezing into every nook the leavers made like cement into a mould. By the time it set, we were not thirty metres from the stage. Thirst drew my mouth into a desert and turned my rationing of beer – beer that was by now very warm and very flat – into an art form. We had Russia in front, Canada beside: a motley army of worshippers to greet the greats, the goods, the everlastings, the been-away-but-come-back-agains.
The sky darkened into dusk, then the stage lights followed. A blue glow cast across the podium, then four gladiators entered, the crowd baying at their arrival. From that moment on, I watched Thom like a hawk, his spindly hands playing keys, his whine punctuating the summer.
At times, it was as if the crowd assumed an instrument of their own, as tens of thousands of voices combined to form one to chant “Fade out...again,” back at the Gods on stage. An entire crowd, it turns out, sounds all lengths of the spectrum and all visible colours in the night.
They left the stage, then returned – the been-away-but-come-back-agains embodied – to play five more. Beside us, the Canadian was in tears. I watched them hammer drums into the air on “There There”, then they were gone again. This in itself would have been a worthy end, but back again they came. Only with Creep. Only with their biggest song ever, the cry for disaffected youth, “I wish I was special, but I’m a creep,” and we felt his pain, so vivid was the melody, so vibrant his sorrow.
Then the piano started. The song that brought Radiohead into my life in the first place. “This is what you get, when you mess with us” – well, so far Thom, messing with Radiohead has brought me nothing but joy and grief and self-discovery. It’s been a soundtrack for growing up, a driving force in my maturity, so I think I’ll be messing with you for the foreseeable future if you don't mind. Thom rises to seal the night. “For a minute there, I lost myself.” Yes, and so did we. So thank you.
As we sat on the bench afterward, too stunned to move, too broken to speak, too mind-blown to think, a cry from the next table echoed into the night. “Fade out...again,” and with an instinct I can only compare to breathing, I found myself singing along, and as ten voices became a hundred, I felt the process of time tearing in in two and the world, I felt, had very seriously changed. The time that was to come would bear no resemblance to what had gone before.
That chant will now forever be the sound of time itself splitting in two.