Saturday, August 16, 2008


The opening night of the All Points West Music and Arts Festival in Jersey City coincided with another set of opening ceremonies in Beijing. While music fans were deprived of that televised event, they nevertheless displayed Olympian endurance leading up to the performances. The thousands of concertgoers who bypassed the costly ferry service endured packed PATH trains from Manhattan to Jersey City followed by light rail service to the park itself. This might not sound so bad until you consider that once deposited at the park’s main entrance, another twenty or thirty minutes of hoofing it awaited you. All of this was a minor imposition on the way to the concert. But returning to the city with the full crush of dazed concertgoers fleeing at once- feet swollen and consciousness in various states of compromise- was another story.

Getting a drink was another significant hurdle. Upon having my ticket scanned and crotch massaged by security, I entered the grounds to find another line for 21+ wristbands. The grumbling increased as I approached the ID table and read the rules: Five Drinks per individual; Last Call 8:30. Huh? Wristband applied, I then discovered that drinking was only allowed in two designated holding pens on the periphery of the field. You heard it everywhere: “Fucking Jersey.” Where else were people to direct their anger than that timeworn punching bag?

Luckily, Radiohead was there to save the day. Attendees had already lightened up after the initial cattle calls. A mélange of hipsters, club kids and elderly dropouts swaying through dance acts Underworld and Girl Power quickly gave way to a determined crowd closing in on the main stage in anticipation of the already-iconic British rock quintet. Thom Yorke and company took the stage just a few minutes after their scheduled start time as the sea of people amassed and crowded closer to the front. The set that followed relied heavily on In Rainbows, their latest album and a mellower one. Despite the deliberate pace, the crowd was entranced. You could hear a pin drop during the down tempo tracks ("How to Disappear Completely", "Reckoner", "House of Cards") while the more anthemic, older songs ("Just", "Street Spirit") got the crowd revved up but never too raucous.

Radiohead is not given to chatter; aside from a few quips from Yorke, they tore through their set with a cool efficiency. But who needs talk when you have that catalog to mine? Some fans are disappointed that the band has veered away from its traditional rock roots. Each of its albums shows Radiohead at a different step in its sonic evolution, from The Bends’ wailing guitars to Kid A’s moody electronic beeps to In Rainbows’ somber synthesis of sounds old and new. But over a two and a half hour set (five hours if you were lucky enough to catch both nights), the guys miraculously make it all coalesce. It’s the most richly textured concert performance I’ve ever seen, with the band- and audience- enjoying its more conventional early work just as much as its subsequent experimental forays.

As Radiohead played past their allotted timeslot and the tens of thousands who had come to see them faced a midnight journey back to New York, the band concluded its set with “Everything in Its Right Place” off of Kid A. It was a testament to the group that despite less than ideal conditions leading up to its show, the choice of closer was appropriate.

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