Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Concert Memories: Radiohead at Suffolk Downs Racetrack, Boston, MA 8/14/01

My ticket stub

I've previously written about some concerts I've been to on this site...these have included Blur, Gorillaz, Peter Frampton, Paul McCartney, Damon Albarn, and Ringo Starr.  I thought it would be fun for both me and you, my loyal readers, if I wrote up more of the shows I've seen in the past. There are two reasons that finally convinced me I should do this: 1) I thought it would be fun to share my experiences and hopefully spur conversation with those of you who may also have seen these (or similar) artists, and 2) it would force me to think back and dig up my memories of these experiences before I forget them!   There are a lot of them so I'm going to do them one per post in order to spread them out.  I'm going to keep the order random so that it doesn't get too predictable and hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I've enjoyed thinking back on them and writing them up.

Without further ado, first up will be...

Radiohead/The Beta Band Live at Suffolk Downs Racetrack, Boston, MA August 14, 2001

I'd been a huge Radiohead fan since their second album, the exquisite The Bends, came out in 1995.  I finally got the chance to see them in 2001 while they were supporting their latest two records, 2000's Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac. The concert was at the historic Suffolk Downs Racetrack in East Boston on a typically muggy August night in New England.  I went with my wife (then my fiancee), brother, and sister.  We drove down to Charlestown from our home on the New Hampshire seacoast and took the T to the racetrack.  I'd never seen a show there before so I wasn't sure what to expect as far as seating arrangements; turns out, there were none!   It was 100% general admission, with the stage set up toward the end of the racetrack infield.  We got there relatively early so if I recall correctly we were about thirty feet from the stage, standing the whole time.   There were no barriers, just a rope between posts running across the entire infield to keep the crowd out of the "pit" area in front of the stage where the photographers and press were.  There were two opening acts: first up was Kid Koala, a DJ who did some crazy things with a turntable. Not really my cup of tea but I remember being impressed by the bit he did at the end when he was spinning and dancing around doing all of these crazy moves and working his turntables without missing a beat. He later joined Radiohead for a a song during their set.  As for the second opening band, they were an indie rock band from Scotland who I'd only ever heard of but never actually heard called The Beta Band.  I'll cut right to the chase and say that they were absolutely fantastic. I was blown away by their set and it made me a fan right from that very moment. I think I went out that same weekend and bought all of their albums and continued to follow them until they sadly split up in 2004.  It was one of the rare times when I enjoyed a support act so much that I became a full-blown fan.  Finally, after a long wait, the headliners hit the stage...

What I remember most about the show was that it was overall very, very good. They played a nice cross-section of material from every album of theirs to that point (apart from the debut), with the only glaring omission being "Optimistic." I was really surprised and disappointed that they didn't play it, as it's one of my favorite songs of theirs and was the big single from Kid A released just a year before. Kid Koala joined them for a very long, drawn-out, and awesome version of "The National Anthem" to open the show.  There was a comical screw-up during the first section of "Airbag" that caused the band and crowd to laugh as it fell apart. They started it again and pulled it off flawlessly.  They hit all of the big songs from Kid A and Amnesiac, as well as numerous classics from OK Computer and The Bends. I remember being really pleased to hear two of their obscure (and great) b-sides like "Pearly*" and "Talk Show Host." I also can still feel the incredible atmosphere of brooding, majestic songs like "Lucky," "Pyramid Song," and "Like Spinning Plates" as they soared on the thin breeze that blew through the muggy night.  At one point, a teenager bumped into me from behind and when I turned around, he looked up into my face (I'm 6'5") and said "are you a cop?" When I said no, he offered me his joint, to which I told him to get lost (I've been proudly drug-free my entire life).  Later on in the show, something happened at the back of the crowd which brought a big roar from behind before everyone started pushing forward in a massive crush. It was actually quite scary and I remember my brother (who is 6'3" and solidly built) and I (as stated, 6'5" and also solidly built) tell my wife and sister to get in front of us as we locked elbows and held back against the crush.  It was probably the most scared for my safety that I've ever been a show as the crowd was really surging hard and had they not let up, I'm not sure we could have remained standing more than another few minutes. It hurt!

In any event, the show ended up being excellent and one I'll always remember.  It was at the height of my Radiohead fandom; I'm still a fan but it's cooled off quite considerably since then. I was pretty disappointed with their 2003 album Hail to the Thief and they then disappeared for ages before coming back with 2007's excellent In Rainbows. However, the 2011 follow-up The King of Limbs was a crushing disappointment and all of the momentum and excitement they'd generated as one of the most innovative rock bands of the late 1990s/early 2000s was squandered.  To date it's the only time I've seen them live and while I certainly wouldn't say no to seeing them again, if I never see them again I'm perfectly content with the fact that I saw them once and that it was a great concert.  Bonus points for turning me into a lifelong fan of the Beta Band, too!

Set List:

The National Anthem 
Airbag (w/false start) 
Morning Bell 
Knives Out

Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box 
No Surprises 
Dollars & Cents
Street Spirit (Fade Out) 

I Might Be Wrong 
Pyramid Song 
Paranoid Android

Everything In Its Right Place


Like Spinning Plates 
Talk Show Host 
You And Whose Army? 
The Bends
Karma Police 

The Tourist

(Within a month or two of the concert, I was lucky enough to track down someone who had taped the show and I have a complete audience recording of this concert on CDR. I always try to get recordings of the shows I've been to so that I can relive them whenever I want)


  1. Sounds like a good "low budget" concert. I haven't been to many of the outdoor affairs, where there's no actually seating. One was a Willie Nelson outdoor type concert--which was ok. I was impressed by Nelson and his bands sound and abilities, just not a great fan of country music. A lot of earlier concerts was more or less find your own seat, nothing reserved, which is fine for the most part. I don't mind outdoor seating if it's fairly controlled. I just thought of another one--C,S, and Nash, played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which was very memorable. Beautiful day and music.

    I imagine you were scared by the crowd rush, I wonder what was going on? Reminds me of the Who incident when some fans were crushed/killed.

  2. I'm glad you brought up the Who show from Cincinnati in '79...that was caused because the venue only opened a few doors and when fans heard the Who soundchecking, they thought the concert was starting and the crush to get in started. No clue what started it at the Radiohead show I was at but it was pretty fucking scary!! I'm not joking when I say I'm not sure what would've happened if it had lasted longer, but I know my brother and I probably couldn't have held out much longer. That Who show ended general admission shows for YEARS but they're still fairly common now. If I remember correctly the Radiohead tickets weren't cheap but they weren't too expensive...nice considering they were HUGE in 2001.

    And you're very lucky to have seen CSN! What year was that?

  3. CSN was on 8-15-92. I know because after a while, I started saving all my ticket stubs as a small souvenir. I don't have them all. I wish I had thought of doing that when I first started. I don't know if you're familiar with the guitarist, Michael Hedges, but he opened for CSN, and was really good. He has since passed. If you want to buy a neat guitar album check out his Live on the Double Planet. Though he has many good ones.

  4. I've heard with Hedges but I'm not familiar with his music.

    Like you, I've always saved my ticket stubs although all of the ones from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s seem to have gone missing during one of my moves...I'm hoping to find them because I know I kept them all and I have all of the ones from the last decade or so. My concert going has reduced dramatically now that I've had kids and less disposable $$ but I still try to get to one or two every year if possible. How about you?

  5. I've been in a couple of crowd surges and they are terrifying.

    Sounds like a great gig otherwise.

    Ps. I keep all my ticket stubs in a photo album.

    1. It was a great concert, just a strange set-up (my friend's mom saw the Beatles at the same place in 1966) and yeah, the surge was scary! How were the ones you were in? Hopefully not too bad?

      I used to keep my stubs in an album, too, and I know I still have them because that album has photos of some trips my wife and I took right after we got married...I just haven't figured out which box in the garage it's in yet :)

  6. My concert going has dropped off. One of the main reasons, however, is just that I live in a small town that's dullsville. Granted they'll get an occasional concert, but it's mostly someone I could care less about. It's more rural in this area so you get a lot of country acts, that I could care less about. The last one they had here was from someone I'd never heard of so I had to look him up on the web. I forget his name, but it doesn't matter he was a Christian rap artist....ugh...yeah, a...Christian....rap....artist! Surprisingly though, I was surprised at the turnout as I live near the event center and was out that night running errands. Prior to that they had several older rock bands on a multi-bill: Bret Michals, Warrent, and Winger. No interest there at all.

    The last concert I went to was at the T-Bone Walker Blue Festival over in Longview (a town 30 miles away). Some of the less-known acts were a bit trying to sit through, but the ones I wanted to see were extremely good: Jimmie Ray Vaughan w/ Lou Ann Barton, Tony Joe White, and Rick Derringer. They were all worthwhile. Granted I only live 90 miles to Dallas, but it takes a lot more planning, effort, and expense to go over there.

    1. I am now in the same position as you, more or less. I'd always lived an hour from Boston and all of the bands I like, big and small, come through there so I've seen countless shows there. Even if they don't hit Boston, they always hit other cities closeby in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, it was always easy to drive and see concerts. Now that I've lived in central PA since last fall, it's much harder. There are some venues around but it's hit or miss...some bands that I'm interested come here but most don't and like you, I'm in the middle of country and Christian music-land, neither of which I like (even though I am a Christian myself). So the options now are driving to unfamiliar cities like Philly, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or DC that are also pretty rough places...and all at least 2 hours away. I may have to bite the bullet if there's a concert I absolutely need to see, but also now with kids and a wife and all that, I am much more selective of the shows I go to see. I seem to be in the same boat as you when you have to make an event out of getting to Dallas for a show.

  7. Hi, I was at this show, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I remember food vendors set up around the grounds.

    I also remember Beta Band being super good, and I, too, bought their music afterwards.

    Their stage visuals were synced with the video screens, so that they would be the same colors. I remember being very impressed with the quality and tastefulness of the visual experience. (I also saw them in 2008 and their visual show was a few levels even more spectacular.

    I did not yet own Amnesiac, and Like Spinning Plates was a revelation.

    We are very lucky to have seen one of the great live bands in their prime :)

  8. Hi, I was at this show, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I remember food vendors set up around the grounds.

    I also remember Beta Band being super good, and I, too, bought their music afterwards.

    Their stage visuals were synced with the video screens, so that they would be the same colors. I remember being very impressed with the quality and tastefulness of the visual experience. (I also saw them in 2008 and their visual show was a few levels even more spectacular.

    I did not yet own Amnesiac, and Like Spinning Plates was a revelation.

    We are very lucky to have seen one of the great live bands in their prime :)

  9. Now that you mention it, I remember the food vendors all around the outside of the area. I also remember the night as being particularly warm and humid, although I guess for August in New England that's normal! Also the clarity of the sound mix was stunning during Radiohead's set, I thought. I lost a lot of interest in their music with the next album (Hail to the Thief) and while I thought In Rainbows was great, King of Limbs was a real disappointment. The new one is ok but I don't think they'll ever capture the excitement they had during that peak in the late 1990s/early 2000s and you're right, we were very lucky to see them when we did on that night.

  10. This was the greatest concert ever! I drove down with a friend of mine from Vermont. We decided to check out/find the venue (MapQuest only back then, wasn't much to get you around Boston!) and then drive over to my sister's place in Everett before returning.
    We arrived, parked, quickly found the entrance, and then returned to my car. At this time we found my car parked around on both sides, and front and back, so we returned to the line - a full 7 hours before the show started! We were easily within the first 100 people in line for a crowd of maybe 20,000+ people? We received special wrist bands, and I recall a rope behind us (which must have been the press area you referred to). We were able to get in and out of that area with the wristbands, but never left!
    Beta Band was definitely a sweet find! I loved when they came out and played with Radiohead later.
    Kid Koala was also fantastic, I was a big hip-hop fan at the time. He opened by saying "I'm going to play these records incorrectly, and if you don't like it, the fried dough stand is over there!" (He was getting boo-ed by the majority emo crowd before even starting his set). The first track was a rip of the Monty Python bugle theme, so I was instantly drawn in.
    Radiohead was SO GOOD and they played for so long. I was very close to the front stage, and made eye contact with Thom at one point, probably the greatest moment of my life. The visuals were also fantastic as someone else pointed out here, two big projector screens with closeups of what Jonny Greenwood was doing with effects, and the band in general.
    I think I may have been the teenager who handed you a joint? We rolled up an altoids container worth of them, and definitely smoked with a ton of people. O_o
    Wish I could go back in time and re-live that day.

    1. Thanks for sharing your memories! Yeah, it was a great show wasn't it? I remember it being really excellent but also pretty loose...when they botched the intro to "Airbag," they stopped and everyone had a laugh before they launched into it again. Some of the best sound quality I've ever experienced at a concert, too (especially for an outdoor show).

      That's crazy about how you were forced to hang around so early for the show, but it sure paid off with you being so close to the front, huh?