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All Points West: Radiohead prevails (twice!) in spite of everything

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Radiohead_lSooo….When I last left you all, I had just finished standing in a contorted position for most of Friday night, squashed in between many thousands of fairly rude people so I could catch Radiohead’s set up close. Like I said, probably not the best possible setting in which to see my favorite band. I couldn’t really be bothered, though, considering how awesome Friday night’s set was. The band was even tighter and more enthusiastic than they were when I saw them this spring. This was a rock festival, so they gave us a real rock show: Nearly every tune got a funky — yes, funky — new instrumental intro or outro, and Jonny Greenwood was firing off furious solos left and right. (Let us not forget that in addition to his mad laptop-tweaking and ondes-massaging skills, Jonny is also an axe-wielding guitar hero of the highest order when he chooses to be.) “All I Need” became an organ-driven slow jam, while “The Gloaming” morphed into a sick backwards-looped groove. We got three pitch-perfect Amnesiac selections (“You and Whose Army”!!), way more than they’ve been playing recently. Thom Yorke even treated us to a beautiful acoustic “Cymbal Rush” during the encore. The whole band was clearly in a great mood that Friday night, and so were we in the crowd, notwithstanding my complete and utter physical exhaustion.

I knew things were going to be a little crazier on Saturday when I saw the lines waiting at the New York-New Jersey ferry stop. When I got to the festival grounds at last for Day 2, I joined yet another endless queue for a security-screening process that made me think I might have accidentally boarded a ferry to Beijing. They were practically strip-searching people, bringing us to a standstill as they confiscated such dangerous contraband as… deli sandwiches and water bottles. Between the wait for the ferry and that little totalitarian interlude, I ended up missing most of the bands I’d wanted to see on Day 2 — my fault for poor planning, I guess, but I hold All Points West’s organizers responsible for the massive overcrowding that greeted me when I did make it in. 

More Radiohead after the jump…

addCredit(“Radiohead’s Thom Yorke: John Shearer/WireImage”)

When it was time for Radiohead’s Saturday headlining set, I stakedout a spot towards the back of the unpleasantly large throng —somewhere I could stretch out and enjoy the show, hopefully with fewergreasy shoulders to the face. That part worked out fine, though thesound mix was intermittently muddy from where I was standing. (Weird,considering that I was still well within the main-stage audience area.Maybe APW will work out that kind of kink for next year’s festival, ifthey have one.) Worse, the crowd seemed sort of grouchy and subdued atfirst. And was it just my imagination, or was the band a little out ofsorts themselves this time? Thom was definitely doing his sullensnarl-singing thing more often, and patter was at a bare minimum. Ohwell — he can’t be in “happy Thom” mode every night. At least some ofthat negative energy was put to good use on crash-smashing full-blastversions of “Bangers & Mash”and “Bodysnatchers” toward the end of the main set. The band’s spiritsseemed higher when they returned for an encore; when Thom lofted hisvoice up into the glorious final verses of “Fake Plastic Trees,”it was obvious his heart was back in this show. (For the record, “FakePlastic Trees” >>>> Coldplay’s entire existence.) The groupof four fratty-looking dudes I saw getting their bro-sway on duringthat song certainly agreed. When I looked around me a few minuteslater, in fact, I saw an entire sprawling mass of humanity dancing andsinging along to encore-closers “Planet Telex” and “Idioteque.” That sight, for me, answered Whitney’s U2 question.They might not have walked into the grounds as stark raving superfanslike me — andthe honestly mediocre festival conditions couldn’t have helped — butallthose folks were thoroughly converted by the time they left. “Sweetdreams, everyone, see you soon!” said Thom as he exited the stage.Here’s hoping it’s very soon indeed, and in a less frustrating context.

One final note: Back in May, I called Radiohead’s environmentallyfriendly stage setup “minimal.” Wrong! That’s how they looked from mychoice seats at the time, but last night I got to take in their LEDlight show in its full spectacular scope. Those intricate, psychedeliccolor patterns were the one thing that was truly flawless aboutRadiohead’s Saturday set. YouTube won’t do this justice, and therearen’t enough good clips of this weekend online yet — but check outwhat they did for “Planet Telex” at a recent show in Nimes, France,below, and tell me you don’t think that the people who designed that light show deserve some sort of award.