I arrive the day before and hire a bike. My paper map of Amsterdam blows out of the basket early on so I go back to some of my favourite places – Kitsch Kitchen, the shops in the Jordaan, looking for coloured tights in de Bijenkorf the department store near the Dam Square… I like Amsterdam, can stay with family and go back there often. I am late to the meet up at de Waag – a restaurant I recommended to the Boardies – and find them all in the midst of a celebratory dinner. I join for a portion of amazing gingerbread ice cream and a few drinks then wobble back to my second-cousin-once-removed’s place.
I have Gabi’s ticket for this rescheduled show. I sent her a load of videos and clippings as a swap.
A lot of the usual crowd are here making a weekend of it. There are a few of the long serving hardcore who will travel any distance, some more determined and single minded than me and there are few more recent members of this contingent who enjoyed the shows earlier in the year and still need one more fix.
Mid-morning I arrive at the station adjacent to the Ajax stadium complex, which houses tonight’s venue. There are about a dozen of the hardcore huddled together in the rain outside the Heineken Music Hall. Some of them have bought fishing stools and waterproofs from a sports shop, which is helpfully located across the concourse.
This place has the perfect set up for a queue. Polite, good humoured security staff; catering facilities; transport; shops; a bar next door… everything we need. I have bought some food and drink to share, a trade off allowing me to take turns at the front of the queue while coming and going throughout the day. The most zealous of the queue fiends aren’t here and there is nobody numbering anyone’s hand. I bring coffees and snacks then go back into the city to meet other friends. When I come back I meet Scarlett.
An intense person even for a Radiohead queue, she wears huge heels, has monstrous fingernails that have grown into talons, and loads of tattoos, many of them Radiohead related. At first I am suspicious, I’ve run into other people in the queue that scare me with their need to be near the band. A bit rich coming from me, but I’m very self conscious about what I’m doing. She introduces herself, she’s been following the tour in America, apparently with no thought to the expense. She’s here for the music, she says, has been getting more tattoos along the way. She wants to compare notes so we go for a drink in the cinema bar.
She is vague, but the gist of it is, due to tragic family circumstances, she has inherited some money and decided to follow her heart’s desire, following Radiohead on tour. I’m sceptical, always, but the more she tells me, the more I want to know. There are things she seems to understand, and more importantly, she doesn’t want anything from me. We get supercharged on whisky and lemonades and talk ten to the dozen. For about an hour we are temporary best mates.
Later we get soaked in the rain outside. The waiting is part of the whole experience, the community of feeling. As we wait, Ricci, who comes to a lot of shows, says something that stays with me. “What do other people have in their lives that makes them feel this way?” I can’t answer, because this is the only thing in my life that makes me FEEL this much.
Because this is a one-off gig it feels special. Knowing it will be the last one for what could be a very long while, makes me determined to soak up as much as I can.
It’s got harder and harder for me to deal with the politics of the queue, no other band I’ve ever seen inspires in their fans this kind of mania for getting to the front. Sometimes I can’t handle it, and end up somewhere further back, dancing, but those gigs are somehow never quite as good.
After some banter with the Dutch doormen, we surf a wave of euphoria into the hall. And there I am, on the front row, there’s a moment of relief and a sense of achievement. I’d been denying it to myself, but I need it.
Once you’ve got your spot, you can settle in for the real waiting. You can come and go (at least until it locks down) and have a beer and know that the rest of the night will fall into place with the security of that barrier under your arm, your belongings safely tucked in the pit, allies on each side. The tacit rule is that you can’t be here unless you’ve earned it. If you don’t queue, then try to go straight to the front, people don’t like it. I don’t have the patience to go through the process very often. I get too aggravated in the queue. I don’t really want to share my band. I don’t always want to tell tales of past adventures to people who will then latch onto the possibility of being my plus one. But on days when it all works and that doesn’t bother me, the prize is precious and worth the hours in the rain.
The barrier in front of you allows you to relax to certain extent, you don’t have to bob and weave all night to be able to see. There’s no one ahead of you to flick their hair in your face or to be six feet tall and block the sightline. You have a clear view of the stage and if you’re lucky you can immerse completely in the experience. You can turn everything else off and merge into the show, it’s not just in front of you, you are part of it.
I find myself with my eyes closed. I want to be swallowed up by the music, lifted out of my body and into the noise, but I also want to be able to see everyone and everything happening on the stage. The tension between these contradictory desires is over powering. I want the charisma and sexiness and soaring joy of the whole experience. I want this to be just for me, but without the rest of the crowd there would be no show.
In Amsterdam I get what I want. This is the show I craved. The songs are just right, the band are in their best mood and everything clicks. I am on the edge of being drunk but even after all the whisky it’s the gig that has me intoxicated.
I reel outside, suddenly alone, not ready to join the others. I wander round the back of the venue where the Japanese and Italian contingents hover by the bus. There is no party tonight as far as I know, there is no sign of anyone. I blow a kiss at the bus and find my way back to town.