Radiohead: 17 August 2001 - New Jersey

Nicholas Taylor

The real change in Radiohead, however, is in their demeanor. They no longer exude the air of whiny, depressed, petulant art-rockers.



City: New York/New Jersey
Venue: Liberty State Park
Date: 2001-08-17

In many ways, Radiohead's August 17th concert at New Jersey's Liberty State Park could've been one giant outtake from the nauseating, gut-wrenching ode to the postmodern melancholia of their 1998 tour documentary, Meeting People Is Easy. In a huge outdoor venue, Radiohead played under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and the imposing downtown Manhattan skyline, flanked by the Hudson River. In front of more than 15,000 mostly twenty-somethings swaying in a large open field, the band ran through the expected alienation anthems like "Exit Music (for a Film)", "How to Disappear Completely", and "Fake Plastic Trees". Accordingly, all the depressed, aching, awkward Radiohead fans ate it all up. With all the apocalyptic nihilism, it could've almost passed for 1997.

But unless you've been living on the edge of a neutron star for the last two four years, you know that a lot has changed since then. With the releases Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead have eschewed their mantle as the Prozac poster boys of the late '90s, challenging their fans and admirers with dense, rich sonic landscapes less focused on cascading guitar riffs than subtle moods and evocations.

While Radiohead still play the old guitar opuses like "Paranoid Android" and "Just", the real thrills of their sets are the pulsing, grooving rhythms of their new material. With tambourine in hand, singer Thom Yorke led the band through a raucous dance rave up on Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong" as the deep bass interlocked with Johnny Greenwood's blistering Neil Young-esque guitar hook. Aided by the scratchy record spinning of their opening DJ Kid Koala, Radiohead tore through Kid A's "National Anthem" with reckless abandon as Yorke swung a guitar wildly around his body. "Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", the tinny, ambient opener of Amnesiac, takes on new life played live -- a positively deafening fuzz bass line complements heavy drum pounding and feedback as Yorke repeats in a vicious deadpan baritone, "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case, get off my case". On this go 'round of the States, Radiohead have replaced the triumphant chorus with the cool, sexy, meticulously crafted groove.

The real change in Radiohead, however, is in their demeanor. They no longer exude the air of whiny, depressed, petulant art-rockers. While critics have accused them of being willfully difficult and perverse with the change of style affected on Kid A and Amnesiac, in concert they are affable and loquacious, easy going and, dare I say, fun.

The most telling scene in Meeting People Is Easy was the grainy black and white footage of Radiohead performing their monster 1993 hit "Creep" in front of a packed auditorium of adoring fans. Bitter and nasty, Yorke sings the song in a lazy, half-hearted manner, patronizing the crowd for buying such pathetic self-loathing. The scene is incredibly telling of their state of mind at the time -- so sick of fame and PR that they could literally vomit all over the fans.

At Liberty State Park, however, things were quite different. Far from acting bitter and disgusted, Yorke was actually . . . silly! During the pulsing electronica fury of "Idioteque", Yorke flailed around the stage in frightening ecstasy, arms and legs shooting out and contracting, head spinning, eyes bugging. His ritualized dance to the blips and beeps of the music was that of a man completely devoid of self-consciousness or self-doubt -- it was the release of a man having fun. During the band's second encore, Yorke sat the piano for Amnesiac's "You and Whose Army?" as a camera placed at the keys gave the crowd a fishbowl view of Yorke's face on the two giant TV screens flanking the stage. Instead of using this as a platform for self-righteous agony and seriousness, Yorke uproariously thumbed his nose at the whole set-up as he made silly faces and googly eyes into the camera at his fingers. As he sang the song's wonderfully sardonic lines, "You and whose army? . . . you and your cronies", Yorke first pointed into the camera in mock-seriousness before pointing back at crowd behind him.

We were the cronies, the army of toughs coming to get him in all his deflated weakness. On the surface this is pure Radiohead pretentious self-pity -- 'You, the ones that love us, are the ones killing us!' But in his silly expression and over-dramatic accusatory tone, whispering the words in a humorous rasp of mock-anger, it was clear Yorke was parodying the whole Radiohead complex that has grown around him. His intimacy, openness, and humor let the fans in, instead of keeping them out, as does the pose of deliberate isolation the band usually assumes. During the third encore, Yorke flubbed the piano intro to Amnesiac's "Like Spinning Plates", candidly exclaiming "Fuck!" before starting again. No longer Kafka's hunger artist or Mingus's clown, destroying himself on stage to all the world's delight, Yorke reveals himself now to be a real human being. The music is simply music and not some great, self-deprecating crusade -- you mess up, you say fuck, and you move on. The mantle of seriousness has been thrown off, and replaced by good, old-fashioned humanity.

As they blasted through their fourth and final encore, "The Bends" from that rocking album recorded oh so many years ago, the mood was loose and improvisational. Yorke gleefully messed up lines while guitar hooks were drowned in the sea of distortion. Having exorcised whatever demons that were tormenting them, this post-Kid A/Amnesiac Radiohead seems ready to be a band again. It was a glorious return to the planet earth for a band that has been languishing on a neutron star of alienation and awkwardness for too long. Reinvented and reformulated both to rock and to groove, 2001's Radiohead pursue their own path with an exhilarating sense of freedom and honesty. Far from being willfully difficult, if the critics could've seen Yorke's self-parody on "You and Whose Army?", they would surely conclude that he was in fact willfully silly, which is nice to see.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.