Saturday, August 9, 2008

All Points (West) Bulletin: Radiohead

And, here we were.

A bit sweaty and over-adrenalized, having alit from the Girl Talk stage like so many bouncing, bouncing underinflated beach balls into the sea of people in the shadow of Ellis Island and lower Manhattan. The sun had set. The false flame atop the Statue of Liberty stood out in the twilight sky. He we were. And it was quiet. And calm, as we stood beside the junior-sized Blue Comet stage amidst those few strips of toilet paper and orphaned tatters of confetti that hadn't found someone to cling to.

The mass of people that had just been loving Girl Talk's Greg Gillis so intensely and joyously has turned South and made their way towards the main stage for the impending Radiohead set. After all, the music and the jumping and the bands and the booths selling food and the random art installations and the beer gardens (where they've devised some sort of unholy system by which an individual can only buy 5 beers) are all prelude to the Radiohead sets on Friday and Saturday night. Without them this entire festival wouldn't have had the momentum to get off the ground. No matter what my younger sister thinks, Jack Johnson wasn't going to cut it. And as good as bands like CSS, Girl Talk, Andrew Bird, Kings of Leon and Animal Collective are there wasn't anyone lugging turnstiles out to Liberty State Park for them. No, sir. We're all here to hear Radiohead. In fact, I would imagine that even the choice of location (which really, even though I'm admittedly biased, is absolutely pitch perfect) can be attritbuted to RH as they played two shows here in August 2001. Some things change. Some things can stay the same.

I wasn't there at those dates. In fact, I've never seen Radiohead perform live before. I've always been an hour late when it came to Ticketmaster and then about hundred dollars short when it came to scalpers for Radiohead shows. Even though I was just another seventh grader wearing out my headphones and likely other people's patience listening to "Creep" over and over and all over again. Although I'd seen the "Creep" music video on either or 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation, or likely both, the song didn't click with me until I received the soundtrack to that Stephen Dorf movie S.F.W. as part of my ill-fated Columbia House membership. Ah, my first run-in with bad credit. Those were the days. Looking back, I can't remember what band on the film score had spurred that purchase. Soundgarden, maybe. Or perhaps the soundtrack was the Columbia House Album of the Month and I never meant to buy it all and it just arrived one day along with a receipt. Either way it was only a matter of hours before track No. 9 was being played on repeat. Like every other overly sensitive pre-pubescent through post-pubescent boy of a certain demeanor and level of self-loathing and insecurity, I felt like a creep too. And I'm pretty sure that my embrace of this I'm a Creep. You're Creep. That's OK. logic doomed my already doomed middle school romance. Wherever you are, sorry Desiree Wesner.

Within days of prying open the compact disc, I had taken two pieces of scotch tape and applied them over the tabs of another cassette single (my guess what that it was either Danzig's "Mother" or some other such metal single that I'd picked up or borrowed along the way) and made a homemade "Creep" tape so that I could listen to it over and over and over on the school bus and before soccer practice and waiting in the junior high hallway before student council meetings. Clearly, I was insufferable. But, then again so was the guy who wrote the song. I'd like to think that we've both matured in the time between now and then. Needless to say, I've been waiting a while to see Radiohead.

Over the ensuing years I've heard about their epic festival performances in Europe and at Bonaroo and everywhere in the world where I wasn't at. But here I am. And, here they are. In Jersey City. Thom, the brothers Greenwood and whomever it is that plays the drums and the other guitar are about to (have someone else) plug in their instruments and play within walking distance of my apartment. With the NYC skyscape to one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other. And, here I am stuck in the middle with Radiohead.

Friday Night's Setlist
1. 15 Step
2. There There
3. Morning Bell
4. All I Need
5. Lucky
6. Nude
7. Arpeggi
8. The Gloaming
9. Optimistic
10. Videotape
11. Reckoner
12. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
13. You And Whose Army
14. Idioteque
15. Climbing Up The Walls
16. Bodysnatchers
17. How to Disappear Completely

Encore 1
18. House of Cards
19. Pyramid Song
20. Paranoid Android
21. Dollars & Cents
22. Street Spirit

Encore 2
23. Cymbal Rush
24. Just
25. Everything In Its Right Place

Oh, and they were great. Just absolutely fucking perfect. The In Rainbows material sounded like a perfect amalgamation of past and future. The asethetics of the stage lighting were like nothing I've seen before and the crowd was enthralled by these songs that were challenging and stirring and delicate and harsh and fast and slow and up and down and everything that you would ever have wanted them to be.

Saturday's Starting Five

1. The Olympics. I couldn't tell you when to watch what. Or who is winning when. But I do know that the XXIX Olympiad has begun in China. NBC's coverage is altogether as inscrutable as the press releases coming from the Communist government but I'm still hoping to catch some hoops and some soccer. The track events, of course, are usually a good watch too. And, then there is always the odd-ball events like the women's Badminton that I saw a "highlight" of this morning.

2. Chad Pennington. After all that's gone down in the past few days Pennington is still scheduled to start at quarterback in the Jets game on Sept. 7th. The only problem is that he'll be starting for the rival Miami Dolphins. Ugh. With all due respect to Vinny Testaverde, Chad is the best Jets signal caller that I've ever seen. Weak-arm or not, he was my Jets QB. He was the leader of the team's that I rooted for most passionately. And, if you go by the numbers and not by the back pages, the guy was a damn fine NFL quarteback. He has the highest ALL-TIME completion percentage among passers with over 1,500 attempts. And, he was done in poorly by the boy-wonders Mangini and Tannenbaum, who have no connection to him or his teams. All I can say is that this guy better get a standing ovation when he steps onto the field at the Meadowlands for the first time this season in December. Every Jets fan better get out of their seat and applaud this guy. He fought for us. He went under the knife for us. He rallied lesser teams to better-than-expected records. He was the first one to turn on the light in the morning and the last one to switch it off at night in the gym and in the classroom. He was an example and leader and the sort of guy that Favre won't be for us and that we might not see for a long time.

3. David Wright. When the Mets needed him this week he has come through. Recovering from a couple (Tuesday and Wednesday) really inexcusable baserunning blunders, Wright followed a walk-off home run on Thursday afternoon with a first-inning long ball on Friday night. The Mets won both games.

4. All Points West Festival. If you can get here then start moving. This three-day music festival at Liberty State Park in Jersey City is more than anyone thought it would be. Aside from the dramatic beauty of the space (nestled along the coast, across from Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty), the calm and they-for-fun-and-genuine-enthusiasm-for-music nature of the crowd has more than made up for what on paper seemed a shallow pool of bands and for what on paper seemed a high ticket price. Radiohead headlines tonight, preceded by, among others, Animal Collective, Kings of Leon, The Roots, Metric, The Virgins, Sia and more. Tomorrow is a little of a hippier (not hipper, though, according to most) featuring Ben Harper, Cat Power, Trey from Phish and (dubiously out of place mainstream) headliner Jack Johnson. The weather is nice. Come on down.

5. The Olympic Protesters. The Olympics are political. It's a fact. It's science. And, you can't argue with science. Just as the sprinters and the long jumpers have been waiting patiently and pracitcing vigorously for the trip to Beijing so too have the protestors trying to raise attention for the potpurri of awful things conected to the Chinese goverment. From the repressive domestic conditions to the illegal occupation of Tibet and the implicit support of those responsible for the terrors in Darfur. These folks are motivated to right a lot of wrongs and to call attention to things that we've been ignoring for far too long so don't listen when some talking head like Bob Costas tells you that they have no place at the Games. They do. And they always will.