Friday, October 4, 2013

Thom Yorke supergroup Atoms for Peace throw hypnotic dance party

Radiohead may be one of the most esteemed modern day bands, but their music tends to be fairly deep and progressive. It makes many demands of its listener. So for those who enjoy the Radiohead sound but wish they would just wig out and throw a dance party every now and again, allow me to introduce Atoms for Peace. The highly touted supergroup featuring Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, privileged Nashville by paying a visit to War Memorial Auditorium as a part of their Atoms for Peace tour.

Atoms for Peace singer Thom Yorke forged bold dreamscapes Thursday night.

It could be considered a minor upset that Nashville even got a date on this tour at all, given the fact that is a rare touring act playing a relatively limited run. Most of their dates see them sticking to the obvious large markets. So it was fitting that an upbeat and spirited crowd packed virtually every inch of War Memorial, and the band themselves put all they had into it. They went to work quickly, getting most of the songs from their latest album, Amok, out of the way early. Yorke broke out his trademark dance style, swishing and sashaying to and fro not unlike a narcolepsy patient. Flea, on the other hand, cut a much more imposing and dominating swath, galloping and strutting all across the stage, all the while wielding his bass like it was a sledgehammer or some deadly weapon.

Musically, they present a somewhat unorthodox approach. It's very hypnotic, chilled out dance music but relies on traditional instrumentation much more so than what you see from the majority of electronic artists today. So it's very organic, band based music but it's based almost entirely on percussion and rhythm alone. Nigel Godrich spends his time minding the keys, but there are a pair of percussionists. Joey Waronker serves as the band's traditional drummer, while Mauro Refosco does various odd jobs in terms of percussion, beating on a variety of drum pads and surfaces. Together, they create highly stylized and textured rhythmic patterns which form the backdrop for each song. Sometimes you might have a skittering, relentless barge of various drum sounds, and at other times the drumming might have more of a watery, rain drop type aesthetic to them.

As for Flea, Yorke said in an interview with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart that the main reason he wanted him in the band was because he plays bass like it's a lead instrument, and that's pretty much what you can expect from his performance. At times, it's almost too much to wrap your mind around with everything that's going on up there.

Bassist Flea lunges forward in a burst of awesomeness.
Accordingly, it took a few songs for the crowd to truly embrace what was going on and get into it, but once they did the place was electric. "Ingenue" was an early highlight, with the infectious main melody driven almost entirely by Flea's bass. Yorke, seated at the piano, let out gentle, lilting croons, while the leaky faucet drum style pervaded in the background. By the time they rolled out "Black Swan," every booty in the joint was grooving.

Although the band could pull of a variety of moods, they seemed to be their best when they were most entrancing and hypnotizing. Flea's bass on "Unless" rang out loud with a constant and pervading buzz that engulfed virtually everything in the arena; it felt like that bass was trying to take over the world. As the set wore on the band began to delve into their back catalog, bringing various cuts from Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser to life.

The opening of "Harrodown Hill" amped up an already giddy crowd even further, while "The Eraser" and "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses" featured much heavier use of the guitar, adding some new elements into the band's sound. We also got the rarely played and awesome "What the Eyeballs Did," the B-side to their Default single.

But one of the most jaw dropping moments came at the end of the first encore, when Yorke's crispy, twinkling guitar combined with one of Flea's most assertive basslines and the bright, flashing white lights to forge a dreamy and spaced out rendition of Amok's title track that sent nearly everyone in the vicinity into a haze. One more sleepy rendition of "Atoms for Peace" during the second encore finally finished it off. Atoms for Peace's set was focused and there was little dicking around. They came in and simply laid down their law, and are doing it in a way that is much more inventive and highly stylized than most bands today.
Related post:

Atoms for Peace - Amok album review 

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