Suffolk Downs, Boston, July 2001
Anybody who saw Grant Gee's wonderful 'Meeting People Is Easy', a quite brilliant film cum documentary cum video-diary which captured an exhausted, frustrated and completely pissed-off Radiohead at the tail-end of a gnawing tour of the US, will understand why it's taken three long years for the band to make their return. Older, wiser and even more revered, this time things were going to be done on their terms - a shortened tour, limited to the east coast with minimal commitments to a ravenous press.
Why exactly would the American press be so eager to fill their pages with the meanderings of a British indie-rock band? Because while the band themselves were steering clear over the last few years, their music has been doing anything but. In fact, such was the impact of the abstract Kid A andAmnesiac, coupled with the band's apparent disregard for the American market, that it is commonly believed that Radiohead are the most enigmatic band in music right now. This bunch of 'art-rockers,' as they are compulsively labelled, are completely and utterly adored in a land that is generally unkind to acts of such Britishness. And it's not your average adoration - sure, the music is great but the average American musical intellect is just as attracted to a particular irony. The irony that though many of Radiohead's songs suggest that the trappings of the modern world are alienating us all, they still rely on no small amount of modern technology to create these songs.
Suffolk Downs on a mild, late summer evening in East Boston : the now familiar, booming bassline of 'National Anthem' is all welcoming. There'd been a buzz of anticipation humming through the hordes since they arrived at the famed racecourse' Blue Line train stop. A buzz that ceased as suddenly as it erupted, into an explosion of pent-up excitement. Such bursts were not to be equalled for the next 120 minutes, due not to a failure on the part of the entertainment but rather, evidence that American audiences are more subdued - listeners, more so than screamers. Thom Yorke & co. are well aware of this by now so no offence taken. Songs like 'Street Spirit' and 'Morning Bell' seemed much happier with this arrangement while 'Idioteque', quite possibly the most adrenaline-inducing live anthem of modern times, flounders somewhat. The schizophrenic 'You And Whose Army' saw Yorke lean menacingly into the camera attached to his keyboard, his nostrils flaring on the giant screens either side of the stage as he issued his war cry - "Come on if you think you can take us on."
For 26,000 fans clamouring to get a good view of the goings-on on stage, these giant screens were a godsend. In fact, they were a welcome alternative for those up front as well. So clear and crisp were the black and white pictures, and so artistically was the show filmed that you would have thought Gee himself was directing the whole thing from backstage. All in all, a bit of a smash and grab by the boys from Oxford. They came, played with their toys and left - leaving an equal rake of rockers and electronica freaks foaming at the mouths. They'll be back.