Atoms For Peace

 

(Photo credit: Timothy Bieniosek)

Thom Yorke debuted his new Atoms For Peace project at Roseland Ballroom in NYC on Monday and Tuesday nights.  Super Fan that I am I went both nights and even with expectations set very high was blown away.  These are completely different versions of the songs from The Eraser when filled out by a full band and far more experimental than Radiohead.  Although he did do a solo piano version of “Everything In Its Right Place” Thom seemed very happy to be relieved of the weight of Radiohead’s massive back catalogue with only b-sides “Paperbag Writer” and “Fog” making the setlists. However Thom was still surrounded by a group of master musicians operating at the top of their game. Flea brought a crazy new energy that worked surprisingly well in this setup and Mauro Refesco from Forro in the Dark had a whole array of percussion tricks up his sleeve.  This was a very unique experience with the entire tour only running 8 dates and a “band” that may never resurface again.  My only hope now is that they re-record studio versions of these songs as Atoms For Peace – with Nigel Godrich producing of course. 

My partner in crime over at BreadFactories got some great first hand video.  More thoughts after the jump…

Night 2 was almost cancelled due to an electrical fire on 52nd Street but after a long wait outside the venue the show went on.   

Flying Lotus
His music needs to be heard on a big system or very good headphones to get the full effect – anything else will not do his sound justice.  Night 1 the system was clearly EQ-ed for Atoms For Peace and it seemed at times like he might blow the speakers out he was pushing the sound so hard.  Night 2 it was clearly improved.  He sprinkled in remixes of Burial, Lil Wayne and of course Radiohead (Reckoner, Idioteque) with his own material and played two almost completely different sets from night to night. 

 I’m a big fan of electronic music but I’ve rarely enjoyed seeing it live. Paying to watch someone hover over their laptop is something I vowed never to do again.  FlyLo came with a different approach not only by recreating the songs live but by bringing a joy to his stage presence that helps translate his music for the crowd.  He’s also a genuinely nice guy who’s obviously very grateful to get this kind of opportunity and exposure.  His new album Cosmogramma was already starting to grow on me but seeing it in this setting really brought it full circle.  

Atoms For Peace
Jumping right in with “The Eraser” both nights was an easy way to win the crowd over right from jump but I was consistently surprised by songs I didn’t expect like “Rained All Night”  and “Skip Divided” (with Flea on melodica) to suddenly come to life as vicious bangers on stage.  It was easy to see the dubstep and heavy electronic influences that make up so much of Thom’s listening library these days in these new versions.  I was also happy to see this music that is often dark, complex and unapologetically heavy played with such genuine euphoria.  All of these men were completely in their element and couldn’t have possibly been happier.  It’s hard for me to imagine what people like Thom, Flea or Nigel do when they’re not listening to, making or playing music. And these are no longer young men either – Nigel (39), Thom (41) and Flea (47) give the rest of us hope that there is such a thing as a cool adult.  Flea was never still for a moment and when Thom was free of the piano and guitar his dancing went from a kind of snake charmer twist to his usual spastic running in place. 

We were treated to a few never before heard songs as well as an amazing acoustic version of the Marc Mulcahy cover “All For The Best” on Night 2.  I couldn’t help wondering if there isn’t a slight pang of jealousy from the other members of Radiohead when Thom writes something as good as “Judge, Jury, Executioner” and keeps it for himself.  I was also curious if Thom’s decision to play “Everything In Its Right Place” solo on the piano was influenced by Gilles Peterson introducing him to the Brad Meldhau version when the two co-hosted a BBC Radio 1 show earlier in the year.  Another jazz musician who covered “The Eraser,” Christian Scott played on the track both nights and on Night 2 the band broke into a Fela meets Bitches Brew super future jam session that was honestly unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.  Incredible and a precursor to both night’s final two songs “Hollow Earth/Pulled Apart By Horses” which quickly turned into free form freak outs with only a minimum of structure and maximum volume. 

You can never match the impact and novelty of a first time experience but knowing what to expect allowed me to focus on the details.  The band itself settled in on Night 2, sacrificing some of the raw excitement of a tour opener for a more assured attack.  It’s almost impossible for someone like me to pick a highlight when I enjoyed every minute of both nights but if cornered I’d have to say “Harrowdown Hill”.  That song seemed to epitomize these almost reckless recreations of songs originally hatched from a MacBook where there are so many things working at once but overtop of everything is Thom’s one of a kind falsetto telling you, “I’m coming home, I’m coming home to make it all right so dry your eyes. We think the same thing at the same time.  We just can’t do anything about it.”  Beautiful… 

There wasn’t a single moment during either night when there wasn’t a camera up trying to capture the perfect photo or video and people were on Twitter or iPhones everywhere I looked.  Such is the modern age and it would be hard for me to be too critical when I’m able to go online the next day and enjoy the fruits of their labor for free.  I was also impressed with the fact that even after Thom has reached this rarified status where all he has to do is announce a tour and it sells out within 3 minutes he still goes out of his way to make things better for fans with paperless ticketing that kept scalpers at bay and waste at a minimum. 

Greedy fans (myself included) waited and cheered for the possibility of just one more song but each night when you heard Charlie Mingus, always one of Thom’s favorites, you knew the show was over and it was time to head home smiling ear to ear and unable to sleep for hours.

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