All Points West, Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ- 8/9
Note to self: Absent major changes in operations, do not return to All Points West Festival next year
The news that Radiohead would be headlining a three day event just across the river in New Jersey is the kind of news that NYC music fans love to hear, reminding us that we are lucky enough to live in the greatest music city in the world. Yes, the festival in question was across the river in New Jersey (so are the NY Giants), as I noted, but that doesn’t matter. A ten minute ferry ride makes this as much a NYC show as a Jersey show and as soon as I pulled up to the Seaport where the ferry was departing, my opinions were validated. A near two hour wait for faithful New Yorkers greeted those unlucky individuals who chose to go a bit later in the day but thanks to the excellent weather, as well as the prospect of seeing a two hour set from Radiohead, spirits ran high. But I must mention that the festival’s own website says that the ferry is one of the “best ways” to get to the festival because the ride is “quick” and “easy.” Of course, there is no mention that the line waiting for the ferry would be neither “quick” nor “easy” but if this was the only thing that happened today, we’d all be just fine. Needless to say, it was not the only thing that happened today.
The ride over to the festival was beautiful giving passengers a great view of downtown Manhattan and The Statue of Liberty before the boat pulled up to the Jersey side of the river. I have never traveled to a festival in this manner, and I imagine most have not, which provided a unique feel to the start of the event and added a bit of excitement. After departing the boat, a brief walk to the festival was expected however that brief walk slowly became a lengthy one as the festival was much further from the ferry stop than any os us had anticpated. After seven minutes or so, we came within eyesight of the festival and earshot of the music, but both were quite a ways off in the distance. But it didn’t matter; the weather was beautiful and sprits were high.
Five more minutes later, I arrived at the front gates of the park and perhaps it was the culmination of a variety of factors, but nobody around me at the back of the line was happy. The line, if you can even call it that, was really just a mass of people waiting to get to what any clear minded observer would deem an insignificant and inappropriate number of entry points. Eventually, as you funneled your way closer, you were herded into lines, but only when you were about to go through the security checkpoint. Prior to that point, there was no order or function to the line and since it was moving so very slowly, you had more than enough time to wonder what the hell the person who thought this was an appropriate way to hold a festival was thinking. The VIP line was even longer stretching back nearly twice the distance of the regular entry line leading many to make the (mis)judgment of choosing the regular entry line which itself was over a half hour in wait time. It’s as simple as this: if you are expecting over 50,000 people to a music festival then you must provide a coherent and expedient way for said number of people to enter said festival. Goldenvoice, the festival’s producer, knows this which makes the entry fiasco all the more inexcusable. Whoever handled this aspect of the fest deserves the brunt of the blame for contributing to what ultimately would be the single worst festival that I, or anyone with me has ever attended.
To say sprits were low at this point would be the understatement of the day.
Given what I have already laid out, the absolute mockery that was getting to the festival, I have to give credit to Sia who really brought people’s spirits up. I had really wanted to see Animal Collective, and I thought I had left with more than enough time, but alas, it was not to be. So I set up camp at Sia’s stage which was closer to the entrance and let me say this; she can REALLY sing. With a set dominated by her solo material (including her newest album Some People Have Real Problems), but peppered with selections from Zero 7, Sia changed the mood for the better amongst my group of festival attendees. Stunning renditions of various songs including “Breathe Me” (if you don’t know, Google it) really set the stage for what could have been a wonderful afternoon.
Next, after waiting on line for the ferry, and waiting on line to get in and then waiting on line for any food item and then waiting on line for the bathroom, I had missed too much music and was determined to see every second of Kings of Leon. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. A spirited hour plus set highlighted by songs from their last album, Because of the Times reminded me of why I was at the festival in the first place; to see and hear music. Excellent takes on songs from that album such as “Knocked Up” and “On Call” anchored a set that saw intermittent takes on songs that will, I assume, be on their upcoming album to be released in September. Ultimately though, Radiohead was why the vast majority of the attendees were in New Jersey, and even KOL lead singer Caleb Followill made a comment or two about opening for the band.
So when Radiohead took the stage at just after 8:30, all the drama from earlier in the day melted away and everyone in my area at least was in high spirits. Such is the nature of music and its healing properties. Opening with “Reckoner,” the band began what would ultimately be over a two hour set drawing on their entire catalog while featuring many of the songs from their most recent release In Rainbows. Set highlights (that assumes the entire set isn’t a highlight) included “The National Anthem,” “Body Snatchers,” “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” and “The Bends.” In typical Radiohead fashion, the light show and visuals were exceptional, working in tandem with the music to provide the kind of multi-sensory experience that few other bands have achieved. In truth, the only way to truly accomplish what Radiohead accomplished with respect to the visuals is to surrender one’s ego in a way that really only Pink Floyd, and to a lesser degree Phish, have done. The band is not into spotlights, introductions or any of the other rock star trappings and the effects of that, at least in part, is the kind of experience Radiohead provide for its fans on a nightly basis. You are not there to see Thom, Ed or Colin; you are there to see THE BAND and with each passing song, album and tour, they remind you of that. Thankfully for Goldenvoice, the festival’s producer, and all the disgruntled fans in attendance, tonight was no exception.