Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has posted a Christmas letter to the band’s fans reflecting back on this difficult year and looking ahead to a brighter future. “Usually this letter is a happy gambol through a year of touring,” he wrote. “Or recording. Or something musical. But there’s nothing to talk about this year, except absences. It’s been a year of music (and friendships) exclusively down wires — and I hope we don’t get too used to that.
“Right now, I just feel this: I hope you are all safe and well and not too scared, or too bored,” he continued. “I also hope that somehow we can be part of making music for you soon, and that the pleasure of making music, and hearing music, whether in a gig, concert hall, church, or at home with friends — is not forgotten in this desolate year.”
Radiohead last gathered with their fans on August 1st, 2018, at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for the grand finale of their epic A Moon Shaped Pool tour. They played songs from all eras of their career that night, wrapping up with an emotional, singalong rendition of “Karma Police” that you can watch right here. It ends with Thom Yorke saying goodnight, putting his guitar down, taking a quick bow, and walking off the stage.
It was the perfect ending to one of the best tours in Radiohead history, where they resurrected songs like “Let Down” and “Blow Out” that hadn’t been touched in ages and clearly had a lot of fun. “I really like the band Phish,” guitarist Ed O’Brien told Rolling Stone this past April. “They are such a great band. We’d always been slightly guarded, but on that tour we just let it go. … Maybe we weren’t as precious as we’d normally be.”
It stood in stark contrast to the 2012 King of Limbs run where they did a punishing 58 shows in a single year, played around with the set list significantly less, and endured a horrific tragedy when their stage collapsed before a gig at Toronto’s Downsview Park, killing drum tech Scott Johnson and injuring three others.
It’s no surprise that Radiohead took off four years after that difficult tour and paced themselves for the Moon Shaped Pool outing, averaging about 25 gigs a year and taking long breaks between legs to avoid burnout. It will likely be a model for the future, but it could be a while before they play again. Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien both have solo tours to make up whenever live music returns, and a new Radiohead album feels somewhat far off.
“We couldn’t even make an album at the moment, even if we wanted to,” O’Brien said in April. “And everybody is doing their own project. Thom is really massively into his touring. He’s got other stuff coming out. It’s the same with Jonny and the same with Philip [Selway], he’s got his next album coming out next year.”
At the very least, let’s hope that we get a Kid A / Amnesiac 20th anniversary box set in 2021. That should tide fans over until the next Radiohead album and tour. And if they feel like playing a few shows to celebrate the return of mass gatherings and the release of the box set, a lot of people will be quite happy.