Without reliable internet at home, I have been calling in to use a friend’s computer to check my email and catch up with news sites. I have been lurking the Radiohead website’s message board but so far haven’t really got to grips with it. I notice that the same group of people post messages there fairly regularly – they must have the internet at work. In the afternoon of September 11th, I stop by to check my email and then can’t understand why none of the major news sites are working. I log into the message board and am alerted to the reason why the news sites traffic has gone into meltdown. I turn on the TV just as the second plane hits the towers.
The board goes into overdrive as New Yorkers, just arriving at work, try to establish the whereabouts of friends who might have been in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre.
The next few days take on a surreal quality. Caffy sends me a ticket for the Belfast gig. I have cheap flights booked and a friend who lives in the city with whom I can stay. She is also going to the show. With all the mayhem that ensued following the attacks, there is some doubt about whether the show is going ahead. I consult the message board hoping for some sort of official word and end up conferring with other fans who are going to the show. I email W.A.S.T.E. but they can’t tell me for certain if the show will go ahead. I decide to risk it.
My reaction to the global crisis is tempered by a recent, unexpected family bereavement. I am more effected by this personal, unrelated death than by what is happening in the wider world, all the disruption just adds to my sense of dislocation and nervousness.
Some of the “boardies” have arranged to meet up in a pub in Belfast before the show and I agree to meet people that I have been talking to, at least if the show doesn’t go ahead we won’t have had an entirely wasted journey. I’m not keen on flying at the best of times, but with heightened security measures, two pat-down searches and no small amount of extra paranoia, I make it to Belfast.
While my friend Karen is at work, I go to meet the boardies in the Crown Liquor Saloon, a magnificently ornate bar near the Europa hotel. They have chosen the place partly for its décor and partly because it has a web cam… it makes it a fitting place for people who have until now only met online to rendezvous. It is the first time most of them have met each other in person and the first time I’ve met people I’ve only spoken to on the internet. I have a pint or two of Guinness with five or six boardies and their various friends, most of whom I have exchanged threads with on the board, but a few of them are new to me.
Everyone is here especially for the show and most have travelled to see the band before. My friend joins us after work and they bombard her with questions about Belfast, which she finds amusing as she’s only just moved here herself. They leave early to get to the front at the gig, but as I have press tickets for seats, we aren’t in so much of a rush to get there.
As a one-off UK date amid the tail-end of a Northern European tour, this show at the Odyssey Arena is a large scale but strangely low key event, the boardies and other faithful have raced to be at the front. From where we are in the seats, the venue, which is a big ice hockey stadium, feels like a hangar. I’m side-on to the stage, Jonny-wards. It’s packed but the atmosphere is oddly sombre. Today has been declared a national day of mourning but we’re here now and the show will go on.
Anti Pop Consortium are the support, but no one is familiar with any of their stuff and they play without anyone really noticing them. When Radiohead emerge, the impact of the opener National Anthem is blunted by its being followed by the instrumental Hunting Bears, however momentum picks up again with an intense Morning Bell and My Iron Lung. Ed is wearing a stripy woolly beanie hat, and some of the boardies are heckling him about it.
Street Spirit is dedicated to “Americans trying to get home” and there seems to be no need to mention the current state of affairs again. Now is not the moment for politics.
I don’t have sufficient room to stand up without blocking other people’s view, so I end up dancing in my chair, a weird bum-shuffle that involves banging my knees on the rail in front of me. I Might Be Wrong, after a false start where Jonny’s guitar won’t work, sets me really moving. They play Pyramid Song next and I feel suddenly subdued. This song fits how I’m feeling: sad, angry, but at the same time more determined than ever to live my life by my own rules. I find I am crying my eyes out. I’m glad then, when they follow it with a noisy rendition of Paranoid Android which allows me to pull myself together with some more jerky chair dancing.
By now it’s become the custom to end the main set with the long build up and break down of Idioteque followed by Everything In Its Right Place. Jonny creates loops, Phil drops in the extra off-beat and Thom leaves the stage first, letting the song deteriorate one band member at a time. It echoes around the venue and from my perch up in the seats I can see the people I met earlier cheering for an encore. They are rewarded with three – Like Spinning Plates is turned back inside out from the reversed sampled album version and Thom performs a solo acoustic True Love Waits. A finale of How To Disappear Completely nearly sets my tears off once more. The line about the Liffey gets a huge cheer from the locals.
I am dishevelled and exhausted. There is an aftershow in a small room in the bowels of the building and I manage to get my friend in. We sit in a corner with some beers. We are befriended by a manic American girl, who without any prompting starts telling us her increasingly disturbing recent life story. She is stranded, flights back to the US being yet to return to anything even close to normality. She has a large bag and has apparently brought a selection of books on politics to give to Thom. He is avoiding getting involved in a long conversation with her and is busy with some other people. When he’s with Tim, I pop over to say hello and try to explain my plans for Japan. Tim confirms that I won’t need tickets and that he’ll be there to sort me out for any shows I want to attend. He thinks I’m crazy, but seems to be quite pleased that I’m making the trip, Thom tells me I’ll get to see what the really mental fans are like. I have a weird tangential conversation with him about airport security checks. One of the buttons came off my coat when I was searched earlier and it somehow that seems important now. He asks if that’s why my coat is so creased and I feel affronted (I am rather proud of my orange duster coat, but it suffered from getting soaked at South Park, it obviously hasn’t recovered.)
I feel like I’m superfluous to requirements tonight, there is nothing else to say. My friend and I finish our beers and go outside. The American woman was on the point of getting thrown out, she is in a state of anxiety, tonight having been even more emotional for her than it would have normally, and we persuade her to come with us. We walk her back into the city centre through the encroaching fog and drop her at her hostel. As we cross the river Lagan, walking back to my friend’s flat, my enthusiasm has picked up again. I’m on a high knowing that I can get into the gigs in Japan and that it’s not a completely crazy idea after all.