Radiohead | Liberty State Park, NJ | 08.16.01

There are those rare moments in life when you realize something special is happening while it is happening. You seemingly leave your body and are able to reflect upon the moment while it is presently occurring. Thursday night, while being blown away by Radiohead at Liberty State Park in the great promised land of New Jersey, I had many of those moments.

The British band has caught quite a lot of flak over the past year for the air of self-importance that has surrounded their last two radio-unfriendly releases, October 2000’s Kid A and its half-brother Amnesiac released just 8 months later. One might wonder how these deep and harrowing songs with often-impenetrable layers of sonic exploration would transfer to a live setting. Yet the thousands of us who poured onto the ferries leaving from the World Financial Center in downtown NYC didn’t seem to have a doubt in our minds that we were about to witness something special.

As the ferry I was on arrived at the Liberty State Park dock, and the bright red sun descended towards the horizon, the feeling came over me that there was absolutely nowhere in the world that I would rather be at that moment in time. The weather was a comfortable 72 degrees with a steady breeze coming off the water, and the view was absolutely majestic (to the right of the stage was the Statue of Liberty and left was the imposing skyline of NYC). Best of all, I was about to see one of my favorite bands with a great group of people.

Once we graduated from the unrelenting cavity searches of the security guards and ticket takers, we found a nice spot toward the middle of the well-kept pitch. After a short while of pinching ourselves, Beta Band took the stage promptly at 8 p.m. Their 6 song set included many crowd favorites and to the unapprised listener like myself, it revealed a band with excellent songwriting capabilities and a penchant for deep grooves. Kid Koala, the DJ who was scheduled to be the second opener, joined Beta Band for the last song of their set.

After a 5-minute respite, Kid Koala came back on stage and immediately shouted “Hello Hoboken!” He was left alone on the daunting platform to spin records until Radiohead were ready to play. He mixed old school favorites from Tears for Fears and Tribe Called Quest to newer familiar slices of Radiohead tunes like “Fitter Happier” and “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” Overall it was a solid opener, but the anticipation of the real show was too much to handle.

The 20 minute break between Kid Koala’s set and the time Radiohead stepped foot on stage felt like an eternity, but once the first fuzzed out notes of Colin Greenwood’s introductory bass line in “The National Anthem” echoed throughout the park, the crowd absolutely raged. From that moment on, I seriously considered that the sheer power and intensity that this band discharged might actually tear the robe off of lady liberty herself.

Over the next two hours, Radiohead charged through old tunes and new tunes alike, pouring an eclectic mixture of dissonant ballads and overpowering hard rock into the mold. Less than half of the 22 songs played were from the past year’s sibling releases or as I affectionately refer to them: Kid Amnesiac. But it really didn’t matter, the audience seemed as happy to hear stellar new tunes like “I Might Be Wrong” as older rocking gems like “My Iron Lung.” The band was on and everyone knew it.

Moving between piano and guitar for the start of each song, lead singer Thom Yorke proved to the 15,000 strong that he has the most hauntingly beautiful voice in rock n’ roll today. There were countless times when his resonating voice being backed by the raw beauty and power of the harmonizing band sent chills down my spine.

While the fan-friendly standards certainly wowed me, I found it particularly interesting to hear how the band made newer electronically based efforts like “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” sound as if it was originally written for a power trio. This is not to say that the show didn’t have its futuristic moments. The delays and effects that were so prevalent on Kid Amnesiac transferred to the live setting wonderfully and certainly didn’t take anything away from the energy or emotion of the show. One particular instance was during "Everything in it's Right Place," when Johnny Greenwood put down his guitar and sampled and amended Thom's voice and the Rhodes using a piece of equipment called a KAOSS PAD, made by Korg. This handheld box had everyone in the audience freaking out and mentally adding it to their Christmas lists.

One of the more memorable moments of the night was during “You and Whose Army?” when Yorke put his face up to the camera which was projected on the two large screens on the side of the stage and egged the crowd on for a fight. While in unusually good spirits, his banter in between songs served both as a moment of reprieve for the crowd from the emotionally draining songs and evidence of his sarcastic intellect.

Although the last notes of “The Tourist” were somewhat drowned out by the commotion of cityfolk running to catch the departing ferries, the memories of this concert will echo in our minds for a long time to come. For Radiohead fanatics this was a reason to celebrate, as the incredibly complex and musically diverse labors of the past few years were proven just as powerful as the more straightforward and critically acclaimed previous efforts. For the doubters, this concert serves as a reminder that Radiohead, for all of their refusals to explain their music and their ever-changing sound, is one of the most important and powerful rock bands of past decade.

Bob Rack
JamBase | New Jersey
Go See Live Music!

The setlist:
The National Anthem, Morning Bell, Airbag, Karma Police, Knives Out, Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box, Exit Music, My Iron Lung, No Surprises, Dollars and Cents, Street Spirit (Fade Out), I Might Be Wrong, Pyramid Song, Paranoid Android, Everything In Its Right Place

Like Spinning Plates, Lucky, You and Whose Army?, How to Disappear Completely

Encore 2:
True Love Waits (Thom solo acoustic), The Bends, The Tourist

[Published on: 8/20/01]

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