Sound — 9
Though Radiohead's earliest work is usually considered to be much less texture-oriented and experimental than their later work (even by me), "The Astoria London Live" proves this notion wrong. Their sound is surprisingly layered and developed, particularly on the tracks from "The Bends". It is, of course, much more straightforward rock 'n' roll than the music featured on later releases such as "Kid A" and "Hail To The Thief", but it already hints at the subtle textures and experimentation which would later define them. For example, the ending minutes of "Street Spirit" consist of a beautifully layered wall of sound, and "Fake Plastic Trees" gradually gains volume until all the instruments and the vocals blend into the same strain of texture. Singer/guitarist Thom Yorke's vocals are raw and powerful on stage and holds up very well throughout the show. Johnny Greenwood's playing is of particular interest on this release because it allows him to display his talent on the guitar, and instrument that was often replaced for a keyboard on later Radiohead releases.
Content — 8
"The Astoria London Live" captures Radiohead at the most youthful, rock 'n' roll-oriented period of their career. Recorded in '94. Prior to the release of "The Bends", it consists mostly of songs taken from their debut. It is a fairly short set (just over an hour), but it succeeds in capturing the energy of their pre-Kid A work. A number of songs featured on the setlist would later be featured on The Bends; these infuse a certain depth and texture to the straightforward alt.-rock of the "Pablo Honey" tracks. The DVD features are very minimal; this was originally released on VHS and consequently includes no interviews, commentaries, or other interesting extra attractions.
Production Quality — 8
Having originally been released as a VHS cassette, production wizardry is very minimal. The camera work is very smooth and the shots are nicely enough framed to capture the sheer energy that Radiohead emanated in their early days. The DVD has a definitely retro feel to it because of the bare-bones production, which complements the nostalgic sound of the '90s music very nicely.
Overall Impression — 10
This is Radiohead's only live video/DVD release to date; this is most likely due to the fact that their newer performances would not translate to video quite as well as the all-out alternative rock featured on "The Astoria London Live". Having seen Radiohead live in recent years, I have to say that there is a tremendous difference both in their presence and attitude on the stage and in their live sound. This DVD is therefore extremely useful in keeping a record of what this band once was, and in reminding fans that there are other songs than "Creep" on "Pablo Honey". The setlist is fairly even, though it does slow down a little near the end. All in all, this is a great show to watch, even for fans (like myself) who prefer the more abstract material of "OK Computer" and beyond.