Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chaos at Radiohead in Golden Gate Park

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Well... where to begin? The thick fog. The surging crowd. The lack of cell access. Radiohead. The sound dropping out?

Our buddy Chris was one of the first people in line. He was in the festival by 3pm and put down a tarp in front of the soundboard for the main stage. We figured that would be our home base.

We caught Steel Pulse to kick off the festivities. About twenty minutes into the set, we got word from other friends that it was a clusterfuck getting to Beck. Manu Chao was up next at the main stage. Ska-punk-reggae. They might have been from Mexico because I saw a bunch of guys waving a Mexican flag in front of me. They lead singer spoke a bit of Spanish, and I later found out that he's from Europe and not Mexico.

Anyway, a few minutes into Manu Chao, we had to make a serious decision. Fight the crowds to check out the end of Beck or defend our territory for Radiohead. Our tarp was being over run and every few minutes it seemed like another thousand people jammed into the area in front of the soundboard.

A few minutes before Radiohead began, a friend of a friend (and I wish I remembered his name) offered me some liquid. He dropped a puddle in my hand. I asked for two. Yeah, that was a bad idea. So our entire crew was dosed and space was as tight as hell.

I did my best to jot down the setlist, but I only wrote down the first three songs. After that it was pure mayhem. When the sound went out the first time during Air Bag, that's when we felt the waves of people pushing and shoving and it felt like being on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras when you have zero control about where you are going and the massive crowd pushes you back and forth.

I heard there was 60,000 people at Radiohead. The way the main stage was set up, it allowed people to filter intoa triangular area... but no way for anyone to filter out. So thousands of people surged forward and kept pushing forward. The scene in front of the soundboard was chaos. For a few moments, I felt that I was going to get trampled. I grabbed on tight to my girlfriend as the Joker and I stood shoulder to shoulder repelling wave after wave of bodies being hurled at us. At one point a kid tried to crowd surf and I got punched in the face.

I've been to easily over a thousand of concerts and dozens and dozens of music festivals all over the world. I had never experienced a more hectic scene. Same goes for the Joker. At one point, I felt a tinge of panic. That's never good on a head full of acid... maybe, I might die tonight.

"It seemed like the band was clearly flustered. They were off their rhythm. And the crowd had no wear to go," said the Joker.

"If you weren't holding everyone back, I would have gotten trampled," said Nicky. "I had no where to move or dance."

It was one of those moments where you had to surrender to the flow. At times, it felt like I was in a hockey brawl. Other times, it felt like a massive group orgy. During the quieter songs, there were moments of clam and serenity. And during the faster songs, it was anarchy.

Imagine a packed subway car in Tokyo. And then people trying to dance like they are standing in an open field. Somehow, one chick in front of us managed to get some space to groove, while one teenaged girl behind me was sandwiched up against my back. She was trapped. Nowhere to go. The music blared. The crowd kept pushing back and forth and we all swayed. Her entire body was trapped except three fingers. And she used those three fingers to dance by tapping on my back and making circles and letting her three fingers go nuts.

The mayhem eased up a bit for the encore and we had some breathing room (and by that I mean no one with a elbow in your back). The Joker freaked out by hearing all the different languages spoken by fans. Radiohead has international appeal and their fans come from all over to see them play. For work, I travel a lot overseas, so I'm used to working in an international press room. Hearing Spanish, French, German, and Swedish is not uncommon for me. But for the Joker, all of the different languages fried his brain.

"They only speak English in Colorado," deadpanned the Joker.

The set ended and we slowly made our way off of the polo fields. At that point, the doses really kicked in. I could barely see with the heavy fog that descended upon the field and all I recall where the pretty lights reflecting onto the fog cover. Somehow, pure instinct took over and I guided our crew out of the festival grounds despite a short detour through some trees. I heard that people were jumping fences to get out.

The festival organizers fucked up a few things. The sound going out was atrocious and an embarrassment. You could sense how pissed off Thom Yorke was. And the set up was poor. They lacked adequate space to allow people to walk to and from different stages, which caused bottlenecks.

We walked through the park and back to our hotel next to the Kezar Pub. I was drenched in sweat. I dunno how we made it out of the Radiohead clusterfuck mosh pit alive, let alone navigated out of the park and back to our hotel. It wasn't until I jumped in the shower and got bombarded by the insane visuals (multi-colored droplets of water not to mention the breathing wall paper). That's when I realized that I was way wasted. Too wasted. I'm shocked that I was able to keep it together and not freak out during the chaos.

"I"m bugging out!" as Johnny Drama would say.

We skipped the after show at 12 Galaxies. None of us could drive and grabbing a muni seemed to complicated. We holed up in our sweet and blasted Phish and literally starred at the walls until the visuals wore off.

Yeah, two was a bad idea. It wasn't until almost twelve hours after the show where the Joker and I sat down and tried to sketch together the insanity from last night.

One night down, two more to go. Let's hope I don't get my face stepped on.

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