This wasn’t, however, a Radiohead show. It was the East Coast debut of Thom Yorke’s other band, Atoms for Peace (né ????) — the one with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The fledgling supergroup had previously played only a tiny handful of gigs, all in L.A., since Yorke announced its formation in a September ’09 blog post. Even in an age when fans could watch those performances on YouTube last fall practically before the roadies finished clearing the stage, there was still a pleasant sense of mystery surrounding the first of Atoms for Peace’s two nights at Roseland.
As in L.A., the headliners began their set by playing Yorke’s underrated 2006 solo album The Eraser in order. On record, these songs can feel claustrophobic: nine careful compositions for a single isolated voice and a laptop full of icy instrumentals. Watching Yorke figure out how to bring them into the realm of the living with Atoms for Peace was fascinating. The opening title track evolved into a free-jazz free-for-all as Yorke leaped up from his piano, grabbed an electric guitar, and started jamming with Flea and a guest trumpeter in glorious dissonance. A few songs later, “Skip Divided” became a slinky, earthy groove with Flea on melodica as Yorke struck a syncopated rhythm on a percussion block. Yorke let his falsetto shine for the first time on “Atoms for Peace” (the song), singing out without restraint, shaping a mellow feedback wave with his guitar, bathed in soft pink light. From this otherworldly moment on, the band really hit its stride. “Harrowdown Hill,” my favorite song on The Eraser, proved even more captivating on stage, its post-punk freak-out intensified by Flea’s massive bass bounce.
By now Yorke was dancing more animatedly than I’ve ever seen him, pogoing, shimmying, flailing in all directions at once. His swaggering moves even reminded me at one point of Mick Jagger, which is not a comparison I ever expected to make. During one particularly jammy moment, Nigel Godrich, the longtime Radiohead producer who plays keyboards and guitar in this lineup, strolled across the stage to give Flea an enthusiastic pound. Atoms for Peace may not have the second-nature reflexes that allow Radiohead to routinely exceed the sum of its parts in concert — until these guys keep playing together for another couple of decades, how could they? What the new band does possess is the ability to have a hell of a lot of fun on stage, and that meant the audience was doing the same.
After a brief break, Yorke returned alone to the stage and every Radiohead superfan in the building held his or her breath. (Well, at least I did.) This was the moment when we expected him to play a few new songs, as he had in L.A. He didn’t disappoint. First was a wonderful tune that I believe had never been played before: Just Thom and his electric guitar, picking out delicate arpeggios and rhyming “Let me take control” with “Secrets to be told” in the chorus. His vocal delivery reminded me of “House of Cards,” and I got a “Cry Baby Cry” vibe from parts of the chord progression. Fan sites are calling this song “Let Me Take Control” or “Chris Hodge,” but according to the band’s set list, it’s titled “A Walk Down the Staircase,” a phrase that also figures in the lyrics. (Watch last night’s performance below, via At Ease. I love YouTube.) Next was “The Daily Mail,” one of the new tunes that Yorke debuted at a truly solo gig sans Radiohead or Atoms for Peace in Cambridge this February. Beginning at a deliberate pace, Yorke built up to a bluesy, piano-pounding peak that called to mind the way “You and Whose Army?” works live. He stayed on piano for a solo run through Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” magnificent as ever.
The full band joined Yorke for an encore featuring “Judge, Jury & Executioner” — another new song from L.A., already a fan favorite — and three assorted B-sides and one-offs. By 10:45 or so, Atoms for Peace had gone through all of Yorke’s solo output, several unreleased gems, and even a couple of proper Radiohead songs. There was really nothing else for them left to play. Too bad!
Were any of you at Atoms for Peace’s NYC debut last night, or are you planning to see their second show tonight? Tell us what you thought in the comments, below.
Atoms for Peace set list
“Atoms for Peace”
“And It Rained All Night”
“A Walk Down the Staircase” (Thom Yorke solo)
“The Daily Mail” (Thom Yorke solo)
“Everything in Its Right Place” (Thom Yorke solo)
“Judge, Jury & Executioner”
“The Hollow Earth”
“Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses”
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