Atoms For Peace
October 2, 2013
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of witnessing a live Atoms For Peace performance for the second time in my life. The first time I had the pleasure of seeing this rare supergroup perform was at Coachella in 2010. Fellow LxL’er Wes and I were lucky enough to land spots right next to Jay and B (seriously) near the sound stage and were gifted a performance of a lifetime. One that I thought I would never have the opportunity to see again. Luckily, that would not be the case, and after haggling my way into a cheap general admission floor seat, I was gifted that opportunity once again.
Out of all the venues I have been to, I have to say basketball arenas are constantly my least favorite to see bands perform in. And just to clarify, it never really has anything to do with the band I am there to see. It always has to do with sound. I understand the purpose of arena shows. Cramming as many bodies as humanly possible under one roof to see an incredible performance seems like a great concept. And in general, it is almost always a fun time. The issue is that basketball arenas are not designed to carry acoustics to your ear in the same way music venues are. Instead, they are designed to magnify sound into an almost inaudible clutter of noise. So when seeing such an instrumentally intricate act such as Atoms for Peace, you aren’t going to get the fine details you would hear in a theater, or even an outdoor venue. Instead you get something that sounds a tad more muddled. All that to say, the show was still among one of the better live performances I have ever seen, despite the bad acoustics.
Thom Yorke seems to have an uncanny ability to surround himself with incredible talent. Not that he himself is not talented, because I believe him to be one of the more gifted musicians/singers in the history of rock music. But when looking at the personnel that Radiohead, his solo work, and Atoms for Peace has connected to it, it is quite outstanding. Aligning himself with Flea at first seemed like an odd choice. Yes, they did both spawn from and early 90’s alternative rock scene, but both with very different sounds. Not to mention Red Hot Chili Peppers never really graduated from their punk-funk sounds, where as Radiohead has been all over the place from day one. Nonetheless, Thom heard something in Flea that he knew would fit well with this sound, and dammit if it doesn’t just work perfectly. Flea still has the stage presence of an adolescent chimpanzee,
so not only does this juxtapose the type of music being played in a hilarious fashion, it also provides another out-of-control flailing body on the stage other than Thom’s. Additionally you get to see the genius behind most of Radiohead’s production in action with Nigel Godrich. The man knows more than just mixing boards, he is all over guitar and keys as well. And then of course you have a double percussion section with Joey Waronker from Beck & R.E.M., as well as a world percussionist in Mauro Refosco. It all makes for an incredibly delightful live package.
The show was fairly split between songs from the band’s debut Amok and songs from Thom’s solo album The Eraser. They also sprinkled in a Radiohead B-side with “Paperbag Writer” and a cover of UNKLE’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights”. The tracks from The Eraser stood strong as my favorite moments of the night, but it was great to see the Amok tracks performed live as well. It shows more of each band members actually personality in those songs, and that is really what you are there for. I was a bit surprised to see that the Chicago crowd, one that was particularly old in nature (probably mostly 90’s Radiohead/Chili Peppers/Beck fans) did not sell out. In Tokyo I noticed that they played a similar size venue in a three night stand and sold out all three nights. Apparently American crowds haven’t adopted the affinity for the rare live act, and it is beyond me why that is. I assure you though, if you have the ability to see them, you will not be disappointed in doing so. Below is the set list from this show:
1. Before Your Very Eyes…
3. The Clock (Thom Yorke solo song)
5. Stuck Together Pieces
7. And It Rained All Night (Thom Yorke solo song)
8. Harrowdown Hill (Thom Yorke solo song)
10. Cymbal Rush (Thom Yorke solo song)
11. Skip Divided (Thom Yorke solo song)
12. Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses (Thom Yorke solo song)
13. Rabbit in Your Headlights (UNKLE cover)
14. Paperbag Writer (Radiohead cover)
Atoms for Peace (Thom Yorke solo song)
Black Swan (Thom Yorke solo song)