EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Framed by rows of empty rain-soaked seats, the “Field Day” banner billowed and twisted in the chilly gusts that swirled through Giants Stadium. The dreary sight was a suitable summation of the 11th-hour rescheduled event for the thousands who were promised a two-day music-and-arts festival and ended up at a slapdash 12-hour stadium show.
Those who braved the elements left with different memories. Some made the best of a bad situation and spent Saturday soaked to the skin while enjoying an eclectic lineup that ranged from electronic blips and experimental rock to somber folk and all-too-familiar singalongs (see “Field Day Saved — But Not Without Casualties” ). For the rain-sopped revelers who turned shared misery into communal bonding over sets by the Beastie Boys, Blur, Underworld, Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes, Radiohead’s set was simply icing on the cake. (Click for photos from the show. )
Where just a few years ago a coy and quiet Thom Yorke stood relatively still as he led his band through its dynamic songs, the new Yorke is compulsively animated. A cross between an inability to stand still through Radiohead’s hook-filled soundscapes and the jubilation of performing challenging material led the singer to expand his repertoire from his trademark bobblehead dance to wiggling, pelvic thrusting and interpretive movement owing largely to the fictitious and spastic Ed Grimley character played by Martin Short (see “Radiohead Prove Everything’s Still In Its Right Place At $2 Bill Show” ).
The band began subdued enough. Bathed in the shadows cast by blue lights, the quartet positioned itself center stage, a few yards away from the lip where other artists ventured to feel the crowd and pose for pictures. The patterned flashing lights behind the bandmembers illuminated them only sparingly. But as quickly as Radiohead hit their stride, they adopted the rock-star roles their powerful music forces on them.
Jonny Greenwood masterfully wielded his guitar, veering from the melody to dance above it. He tore at the strings to produce the hollow tones on “Just,” from 1995’s The Bends, which brimmed with self-loathing explosiveness. When he wasn’t wailing on the guitar he looked like a mad sonic scientist, consumed by an analog synth that looked like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and dripped with looped colored cords, or rubbing out screeching tones on a Korg Kaoss Pad.
Huge rock songs from The Bends and 1997’s OK Computer were ready-made for the stadium, but surprisingly, Radiohead’s atmospheric constructions from Kid A, Amnesiac and their latest, Hail to the Thief, also molded well to the cavernous venue. However, the bigger-sounding tumultuous tunes fared far better swirling through the stadium than the sparse, slow ones, which seemed to evaporate in the ether.
“Sing us a song, a song to keep us warm,” Yorke sang in “Exit Music (For a Film),” the second song of a lengthy encore. “There’s such a chill, such a chill.” The damp cold gave the lyrics poignancy, though given Radiohead’s performance, neither the words nor music needed any help from outside forces.
After 22 years together, one would assume that a performance by the Beastie Boys would run as smoothly as, as Ad-Rock put it Saturday, “a well-oiled machine.” Unfortunately, the trio couldn’t blame their rusty set on the rain.
The set started well, with Mix Master Mike priming the crowd for the emergence of Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D, who wasted no time in launching into favorites from their last two LPs, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty, including “Sure Shot,” “Super Disco Breakin’ ” and “Root Down.” They looked good, too, and displayed more energy here than in some previous performances — even MCA, who usually skulks around the stage.
The problems arose on songs from earlier albums, Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, and it’s hard to tell who to blame. Mix Master Mike’s attempt to spruce up the 15-year-old tunes with new beats and scratches lost the rappers, who had to halt the set several times in order to keep the beat. After a few such stoppages, Mike began to intermittently drop cues identical to the studio versions, but even that wasn’t enough.
“What song are we doing?” Ad Rock said to halt “Alright Hear This,” before commenting on their DJ’s novel and confusing beats. “We don’t know that one. Let’s do the one we know.”
So is it Mix Master Mike’s fault for wanting to update the classics and show off his fast and flashy technique in the process? Or should the blame be placed on the Boys for not being able to adapt — or even rehearse properly — after all these years?
Beck was also scheduled to play the show, but was sidelined after colliding with a working stagehand while watching Blur, who took the main stage earlier in the day. A preliminary diagnosis by the Field Day medical crew was a broken rib, but X-rays at a local hospital proved otherwise. Still, he was advised by doctors not to perform, though his present tour with Dashboard Confessional will go on uninterrupted, according to a Geffen Records spokesperson.
Electronic outfit Underworld proved one of the most electrifying bands of the day, setting the tone for the remaining performances by prompting people to get up and dance to their vigorous beats — even if the crowd was only doing so to keep warm in the nippy afternoon downpour. Blur’s more upbeat tunes, such as “Girls & Boys” and “Song 2″ (“It belongs in a place like this,” singer Damon Albarn said of the stadium rocker), highlighted a set that culminated in the heavy “We’ve Got a File on You,” from their latest, Think Tank.
While Underworld and Blur attempted to ignite the main stage, the misery quotient dipped to near-pathetic levels on the second stage, where a couple hundred soaked sad sacks ignored the shower to stand stoic and watch Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes pour out their confessionals like so many pairs of water-logged Ben Shermans.
When Beth Orton, the second mainstage act, sang “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine,” the chorus of which provides the rationale, “[Then] I wouldn’t mind the rain,” it proved prophetic. Living in the Northeast, we haven’t seen much sunshine this season, and perhaps that made it easier for fans to ignore the elements and simply have a good time.
Liz Phair, Spiritualized, Particle, My Morning Jacket, Thursday, Gemma Hayes, 2-20s and Ours rounded out the lineup.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.