Photos By Ryan Kelly, Words By Ross Bonaime
It’s still incredibly weird to me that Thom Yorke and Flea have a band together. Yorke, as the lead singer of Radiohead, has released some of my favorite music ever, including maybe my favorite album ever OK Computer, while the other…is named Flea. With Red Hot Chili Peppers he’s become one of the greatest bass players of all time, but there’s only so many songs about California I can take. So seeing these two together as Atoms For Peace, along with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco on percussion, was something I felt like I couldn’t miss.
The barely half-filled Patriot Center cheered as the five members took the stage and started playing “Before Your Very Eyes…,” with Flea and Yorke almost seemingly battling with their guitar and bass. Instantly the weirdness of this combo faded, as they perfectly match each other. Flea’s jumping up and down while playing his intricate bass riffs looks just right next to Yorke’s wild dancing.
Their second song “Default” was a much more primal, grimier version than the version on Amok, and would be a constant theme for the night. Flea’s bass completely takes over the song, making it sound almost haunting and sinister.
Having seen Radiohead on their In Rainbows tour, I was struck by how gorgeous their light show could be, and that penchant for flashiness is in Atoms For Peace’s set as well. Not only to their lights strobe and flash various perfectly to the music, but there’s also wavy lights and a series of colored cubes that occasionally brighten up in time. When everything is put together, the colors reflect a sort of distorted American flag. It’s almost like Atoms For Peace are saying, “Tomorrow the government is closing, but hey, let’s party tonight!”
While Flea and Yorke together is amazing, when Godrich makes his way to the front with his guitar ready, the trio sounds incredible. His guitar reminds me of Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) or David Sitek (TV on the Radio).
The set list was a well-crafted balance of Amok and Yorke’s solo album The Eraser, since the band was created so that Yorke could take his album on the road. Those records never really worked that well for me, yet in a live atmosphere, every song sounds wonderful. You have five masters of their instruments working at full-force and blending in a way that can only be described as perfect.
Atoms For Peace combine all their possible songs so that the set ebbs and flows, going high-energy, like at the end of their set playing probably the night’s most popular song “Harrowdown Hill” on a loud-as-hell setting, then finishing “Dropped” in a way that almost sounds like an experimental punk song, followed by Yorke heading behind the piano to end things with “Cymbal Rush.” Even when the music gets quieter and somber, the excitement never wanes.
For their first encore, Atoms For Peace went for some deep cuts. After playing “Skip Divided,” which Yorke proceeded by saying “Sit down! We ain’t done yet!,” they got into the lesser known Yorke track “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses,” with Godrich once again working his magic. After this were two great surprises. First, AFP did a gorgeous rendition of the UNKLE track that Yorke made a guest appearance on, “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” with Flea performing the speech in the song’s middle. It was clear the audience didn’t really know the song, but the few in the crowd that did were freaking out. Following was the night’s only Radiohead song, yet once again not one hardly anyone recognized, “Paperbag Writer,” a cut track from Hail to the Thief. Upon listening to it later, “Paperbag Writer” does sound much more like an Atoms For Peace track, with the standout bass line up front, and it was pretty great to see the crowd not realizing they were hearing a Radiohead song.
After ending their encore with “Amok,” the band left and returned for their second encore, a combination of The Eraser tracks, “Atoms For Peace” and “Black Swan,” which were a nice way to come down at the end of the night.
Atoms For Peace was created as a touring band first and foremost and that really shows in their live performance. Seeing Amok performed the way it was meant to be heard puts it in new perspective. Had people known how brilliant these five greats performing together would be, that stadium would have been packed.