“My name is Jay Z,” Thom Yorke said during last night’s Atoms for Peace show at Philadelphia’s Liacouras Center. Yorke then motioned to bassist Flea, “This is Beyoncé.” It was a rare moment from Yorke, who said almost nothing else during the tour-opening set, but his quip made it clear that despite the band’s dour lyrics, they were there to have a good time.
On the band’s debut, Amok, Atoms for Peace songs sound calculated and glitchy, but live, they come off much more raw and organic. The show opened with an energized version of “Before Your Very Eyes,” driven by drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco, who played an Afro-beat texture with competing, rapid rhythms. As with many of the songs, keyboardist Nigel Godrich layered cold, energetic synthesizer lines over the percolating percussion.
The band seemed like they were in perpetual motion from the onset; Yorke often slid his neck and torso in a parabolic motion from side to side, looking like a trained cobra. His voice remained a clean, ghostly wail, while Flea was in classic Flea mode for nearly the entire performance, bent over his bass, plucking away and stomping across the stage in jerky, primal movements.
The band played a number of Yorke solo tracks, including an absolutely haunting version of “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” and the U.N.K.L.E. tune “Rabbit in Your Headlights.” “Horses” opened with Yorke’s moans that were dubbed and chopped up beyond recognition and, as is becoming the band’s trademark, the song evolved from its creepy beginnings to a pounding tempo that was as violent as it was snappy. Another highlight came when Flea put down the bass and played the melodica on “Skip Divided” – there was a willful looseness, and he became even more jumpy than usual.
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Because Atoms for Peace base their live show heavily in Yorke-composed material, it’s tempting to view it as his vehicle. But the complex, cohesive sound exhibited in Philadelphia showed that this band is a collaborative project and is certainly more than the sum of its parts. What makes the band so intriguing, however, is that it’s difficult to tell what each part is doing at any given time and to what end. Yet, somehow, it all fits together like peculiar clockwork.
“Before Your Very Eyes”
“Stuck Together Pieces”
“And It Rained All Night”
“Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses”
“Rabbit in Your Headlights”
“Atoms for Peace”