At first it’s slightly disconcerting, as a Radiohead fan, to see Thom Yorke flanked onstage by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea instead of guitarist Jonny Greenwood. But once the opening notes of Yorke’s “The Eraser” start, the disorientation immediately dissipates. Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace began their first proper tour of the U.S. last night with the first of two sold-out shows at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom, treating a packed venue of fans, including Michael Stipe, to a complete performance of Yorke’s 2006 solo album The Eraser, obscure and familiar Radiohead songs, and a few new tracks making their stateside debut.
Although Yorke was the sole author of the evening’s music, Atoms for Peace’s incredible backing band breathed new life into The Eraser. Beck drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco replicated and surpassed the album’s complex beats, and producer Nigel Godrich, who fans call the unofficial sixth member of Radiohead, seized the opportunity to show what he really brings to the table, alternately tackling guitar, keyboards and backing vocals. And then, of course, there’s Flea, with his hair dyed teal and a Minutemen T-shirt on, who provided the heartbeat and added a sizable dose of menace to bass-driven tracks like “Harrowdown Hill.”
Flying Lotus, the tour’s opening act who tells RS he was recruited in a psychic dream, came dangerously close to blowing out the venue’s speakers during his 40-minute set, concluding with a manic take on Radiohead’s “Idioteque.” A half-hour later, Atoms for Peace took the stage, performing a set that didn’t deviate from those Yorke performed at his first Los Angeles shows in October 2009 — Atoms for Peace played The Eraser straight through, from the disjointed piano chords of “The Eraser” to the closer “Cymbal Rush.”
“The Eraser” was enlivened by a cameo by trumpeter Christian Scott, who added a brassy siren’s call to the song’s chorus. On “The Clock,” Refosco busted out a giant didgeridoo to keep time with the song’s ticking pace, and for “Skip Divided,” Flea shed his bass for a melodica blow organ. “Harrowdown Hill” provided the highlight of the first act as Yorke’s desperate plea of “Don’t ask me, ask the ministry” and Flea’s thunderous rhythm completely blanketed the audience in sound.
Atoms for Peace left the stage, and after a brief break, Yorke emerged with a guitar to perform a new song solo. The track, which Radiohead fansite At Ease is calling “Chris Hodge/Let Me Take Control,” (Update: A Radiohead pub tells RS the song is tentatively called “A Walk Down the Staircase”) was a ballad that would be at home on the second side of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night and similar stylistically to Yorke’s other recent new songs “Lotusflower” and “The Present Tense” (watch it here). “Walk down the staircase, a magnetic pull. Back to the other place, I can not go,” Yorke sang alone onstage, “Let me take control… secrets to be told.” Yorke next gave new song “Daily Mail” its U.S. debut — he’d previously unveiled the song in Cambridge during a February solo show. He followed with perhaps the biggest and most appreciated surprise of the night, a solo performance of Kid A opener “Everything In Its Right Place,” stripped entirely of its studio wizardry and vocal effects, leaving just Yorke and his piano.
Atoms for Peace returned for the last five songs of the night, starting with a pair of tracks previously played when the then-unnamed band debuted in Los Angeles: a completely retooled and mind-blowing rendition of the Hail to the Thief B side “Paperbag Writer” and another relatively new track titled “Judge, Jury & Executioner.”
“Now we’re really gonna fucking freak out,” Yorke told the crowd before Atoms for Peace launched into the evening’s final two songs. The band’s energetic take on “The Hollow Earth” transcended the version found on the 12” single Yorke released last year thanks mostly to percussionist Refosco, who sounded like he’d sprouted four additional arms for the occasion.
The show’s finale, “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses,” has perhaps the most sinister bass line in the Radiohead-related canon, and it was well handled by Flea’s capable hands. In one of the show’s most visually memorable moments — Yorke makes no attempt to usurp Radiohead’s light show — Yorke and Flea faced each other at center stage, staring at one another, Flea on bass, Yorke on guitar, and locked into a unison that carried the song past the point of its climactic conclusion. When the band pushed the song to its limits, like it was literally being pulled apart by horses, it came crashing to a sudden halt as Yorke thanked the audience and Atoms for Peace left the stage.
Atoms For Peace
April 5 – New York, NY @ Roseland Ballroom
“Atoms For Peace”
“And It Rained All Night”
“A Walk Down the Staircase” (new song)
“Everything In It’s Right Place”
“Judge, Jury & Executioner”
“The Hollow Earth”
“Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses”