Israeli promoter Eran Arielli made sure to experience every vantage point of Radiohead’s performance at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on July 19. He started on stage right, where Ed O’Brien held court on the guitar as drummer Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood locked in step, eventually making his way to the center and singer Thom Yorke’s zone, and ended the night on stage left, where Jonny Greenwood, sometime Israeli resident (via his wife, Sharona Katan) and Radiohead’s chief musical wizard, pummeled the crowd of nearly 50,000.
Getting Radiohead to Israel was a major coup, not just because the band is beloved in the country (“Creep” went to No. 1 in Israel back in 1992 before generating buzz elsewhere in the world), but because Arielli, an independent promoter whose company Naranjah had primarily booked indie acts at mid-sized venues in Tel Aviv, got the contract.
“It felt like a cosmic night — for us and for the band,” Arielli tells Variety the morning after the show, which was Radiohead’s longest in over a decade, clocking in at two hours and 26 minutes. “The vibe was really incredible. I was crying the whole show.”
He’s not kidding. Arielli, who started talking to Radiohead’s agency 13 Artists about a Tel Aviv date last summer, is one of many thousands of Israelis who fell hard for the band. “Radiohead and Israel is a bizarre love story that’s been going on for 25 years,” he says. “‘Creep’ is part of that equation, but it’s really unexplainable. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s something you can’t describe — something magical.”
And it seems Radiohead reciprocated that love as well. After weathering criticism from the likes of Roger Waters for agreeing to play in the country, to which Yorke responded tersely in a subsequent interview, “the band projected love and were their absolute best,” adds Arielli, noting that the “audience felt like the band invested in them” — particularly as there were no VIP, “golden ring” or special areas offered (tickets went for 429 NIS to 479 NIS, or just over $100).
As for security in the wake of protests from abroad and a campaign by an Israeli newspaper that attendees wave the Israeli flag as a show of pride for their country, Arielli says “security was high, but that’s the default” for any concert of its size (the final number of tickets tallied approximately 48,500, just shy of a sell-out). “The vibe was loose, friendly, and cozy.” Adding to that was openers Dudu Tassa and Shye Ben Tzur, the former who, in a nod to his Iraqi roots, sings in Arabic — a first for a major event at Yarkon Park.
Being a hardcore fan, Arielli admits he “didn’t what to expect” of Radiohead’s set list. “We made bets in our office,” as to which songs the band might play. But, ultimately, he says, “We trusted that the [set-list] would be more than epic, and it was.”
See the full set list below:
All I Need
Everything in Its Right Place
2 + 2 = 5
Like Spinning Plates