Thom Yorke likes to boogie, and he wants you to, too. “I hope you dance, because this is a dance record,” he said by way of introducing “Skip Divided,” one third through the first of a two-concert solo stand last night at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre. “You can just sit there like you’re at the cinema, but I hope you get down.”
The Radiohead frontman himself had been following his own advice since the first song. Entering the stage to a standing ovation, Yorke began at a standup piano facing away from the audience, pushing out the chunky chords that announce “The Eraser,” the title track from his 2006 solo album. However, as his elite backing band kicked in — Red Hot Chili Peppers’ icon Flea on bass, Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) on drums, Mauro Refosco (David Byrne, Bebel Gilberto) on percussion, longtime Radiohead/Yorke producer Nigel Godrich on guitar/synths/laptop — Yorke began to shake his tailfeather with aplomb. Strapping on a guitar, Yorke and Flea began their own punk-funk hootenanny, grooving in unison as they vamped on an angular disco riff; behind them, their bandmates built up waves of propulsive percussion that evoked more an LCD Soundsystem show than, say, “Karma Police.”
Yorke’s L.A. appearances, his first official solo shows backed by a band, quickly sent tremors through the blogosphere after their abrupt announcement. The wave of anticipation was impressive in a town built on hype: according to Themusicslut.com, a surprise warmup “rehearsal” two days earlier at the smaller Echoplex club drew the likes of Daft Punk, Zack De La Rocha, Neil Diamond, Celine Dion, Spike Jonze, Madonna, Prince, Rick Rubin, Slash, Sting, and, er, Barbra Streisand (at the Sunday show, however, this reporter spotted only Ed Norton and Sandra Oh, although Yorke’s Radiohead bandmate Colin Greenwood, to whom Yorke dedicated “Paperbag Writer” during the encore, was in attendance).
At both the Echoplex and Orpheum, Yorke & co. played The Eraser album in its entirety, which proved a clever conceit. The Eraser is the ultimate bedroom electronica opus, its synthetic beats influenced by dubstep and IDM starkly rhythmic. In the live setting, however, the songs, taken out of the computer realm by virtuoso musicians with such passion, suddenly became transformed into downright euphoria.
Yorke’s elastic, idiosyncratic voice obviously remains the primary attraction — his off-kilter, Joni Mitchell-style runs on “Atoms For Peace” simply startled, while his falsetto scatting in the middle of the James Brown/My Life In The Bush of Ghosts groove of “The Clock” literally proved bone-chilling. But while Yorke’s vocal melodies provide the key dynamic element, live he often subsumed himself into the band’s thrilling, unified wave of rhythm, helping draw out grooves for full hypnotic effect. Waronker’s drumming, especially the complex patterns underpinning “Black Swan” and the Johnny Cash-style railroad clip of “Atoms For Peace,” added a crucial, evocative element to the proceedings. Flea, as expected, brought the funk, giving the head-bobbing bassline in “Harrowdown Hill” extra, expert swing; the song has an angry, politically-charged lyric, but here it became a celebration of sorts.
On “Black Swan,” Yorke and Flea engaged in one of many jam-out duels, the Red Hot Chili Pepper exploring Bitch’s Brew-style low-end theory while guitars and synths chimed away hypnotically. After the sweaty, club-ready climax of “Cymbal Rush,” replete with Underworld-style synths, Yorke brought things down to earth for the encore with two new, stripped-down songs played without band backing. One, the piano-driven “Open the Floodgates,” had the frayed, homemade feel of classic Neil Young Ã la “After The Gold Rush.” Another, the mesmerizing ballad “Lotus Flower,” found Yorke accompanying himself with just guitar. On “Lotus Flower” and the rare Radiohead song “Super Collider,” Yorke’s voice became so impossibly supple, he seemed to be singing harmony with himself, driving the manic crowd to astounded quiet.
Yorke brought the players back for the night’s only other Radiohead song, the B side “Paperbag Writer,” and the heavy rhythms of the main set recommenced. Again, Yorke the dancer came out, even more so on the final songs of the set, the recently released new tracks “The Hollow Earth” and “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses”; the latter of which verged on evoking, say, the loping New Orleans groove of the Meters, abetted by Godrich alternately unleashing ethereal washes of glittering harmonics and sub-bass booms. Inspired by these thumping basslines and beats, Yorke was throwing shapes like nobody’s business, sometimes verging on a moonwalk, sometimes almost pogoing, his angular moves drawing screams like Jonas Brothers: imagine Ian Curtis’ twitches but more on the beat, and you get the picture.
As deep, dark, and meaningful as Yorke’s songs are, in this context they also proved righteously fun. This was different than a Radiohead show — the sight of Flea doing his characteristic bop onstage alongside Yorke confirmed that — but it proved equally sublime: separate, yes, but perhaps equal. Solo, Yorke proved cathartic in his own way: a Radiohead show might make you weep, but Yorke and his band of merry rhythm makers will shake your body down to the ground.
“Atoms For Peace”
“And It Rained All Night”
“Open The Floodgates”
“Judge, Jury & Executioner”
“The Hollow Earth”
“Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses”