Show Review: Atoms For Peace (Thom Yorke) at the Fox Oakland, 4/15/10

by Matthew Blake on April 16, 2010

What surprises did Thom have that aren't listed? Read on to find out!

An international man of mystery.  No, not that one.  Thom Yorke’s experimental genius continues to grow over the years and has culminated into his current project entitled “Atoms For Peace.”  Bay Area music fans were treated to two performances on what has been a very brief and selective tour, ending with a headlining performance at this year’s Coachella music festival.  As most ticket holders to Wednesday’s performance have already claimed, they did not leave disappointed.  It would be safe to assume that a large majority of Thursday’s audience were veterans of the previous night’s performance.  Given the opportunity, who wouldn’t allow Thom and his new group of lads to dazzle them two nights in a row?

Although perhaps unknown to many Radiohead fans, Flying Lotus had much to offer as an opening act.  Mr. Yorke’s hip-hop experimentalist counterpart, Flying Lotus delivered beats carefully carved with samples and soulful melodies that got everyone in the building, including the venue’s lighting fixtures, swaying to the powerfully driven bass.  Both Thom and Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) share minimum degrees of separation through legendary fallen hip-hop producer, J Dilla.  Unlike many opening acts that stray outside the genre of the headliner, Flying Lotus received well deserved praise from the crowd and added cheers when he mixed a couple Radiohead tunes.  Coachella goers following Atoms For Peace to the desert can also catch Flying Lotus at the same festival.

As Atoms for Peace took the stage, the crowd buzzed in anticipation to what the second night would bring.  Thom Yorke approached the mic and mumbled something from his heavily accented vocabulary that all regular fans have been accustomed to at his past shows, and continued throughout Thursday’s show.  This in fact, just adds all the more mystery to the lead character.  He darted for his piano to lead out with “The Eraser” and was greeted by a warm crowd response.  The diverse team Thom had assembled didn’t miss a beat.  On stage was Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, Mauro Refosco from Forro in the Dark (he has also done work with David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, one of Thom’s musical idols) on percussion, Joey Waronker of R.E.M. and Beck on drums and finally, the unofficial sixth member of Radiohead, producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and guitar.  The true music aficionados in attendance had a rare opportunity to witness this accomplished producer playing his game live.

The set list was presented in three portions, with breaks in between.  The first set covered Thom’s The Eraser album in its entirety, with the second compromising of a solo performance, and the third being new and old material both.  Radiohead this was not.  Despite some slow and soothing solo tunes, most of the night was filled with funk, rhythm, and fun driven by well timed bass notes, drum beats and happy synth sounds.  Perhaps the typically boyish and energetic Flea rubbed off on his band mates, as each song was accompanied by gyrating hips, epileptic explosions and sprints across the stage.  Nigel Godrich and Flea looked like the Van Halen brothers of old, joining each other in the middle of the stage to rock out and heck, even the remaining bit of hair Nigel has bounced up and down in tune with each beat.  It was great for the audience to see Thom just lose himself in the music and dance like nobody was watching, although a sold-out venue of 2,800 fans were in fact watching.  This was a stark difference to the usually soulful and melancholy performances.

As Thom took the stage to perform minus his band, he seem befuddled.  Attempting the first keys of “Open the Floodgates”, he quickly forgot the lyrics, engaging the help of his trusty Radiohead producer to run on stage and whisper the next few bars into his ear as the audience giggled.  This type of candid and loose humor is what fans have come to love about Thom – taking being himself over professionalism.  Thom delivered four incredibly songs and truly put his falsetto tones on display for all to hear.  It was a cool and heartfelt break from the sweat producing tracks played otherwise.  He reminded us that simplicity goes a long way but the characteristics of his songs are still so insanely complex.  What a combination.

Identical to the first night, after completing an entertaining encore that included Radiohead’s “Paperbag Writer,” the band gracefully thanked the audience and exited the stage to roaring applause and the house lights coming on leading you to believe the show had concluded.  However, the crowd did not fall for Thom’s rouse this time and almost everyone stayed in the building expecting the band to return to the stage, and that they did.  Thom greeted the assuming crowd with a smile, and on bassist Flea’s cue, the band ripped into an unexpected cover of Joy Division’s (also one of Thom’s lifelong favorites) hit tune “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  Perhaps this makes up for the absence of the always loved “Everything In It’s Right Place”?

Although not a replacement to the genius that is Radiohead, most fans would have left pleased and delighted to see a different side of Thom Yorke and grew in awe of his musical diversity…and dance moves.   The others that were expecting and thought they deserved what they were used to, however, left the theater scratching their heads.  The message to these people?  Diversification is not limited to your stock porfolio but perhaps your musical portfolio as well.  Regardless, Radiohead will be back sooner than you know it and we know Thom and the boys have more gems up their Oxford sleeves for the listeners.

Set list:

The Eraser
Analyse
The Clock
Black Swan
Skip Divided
Atoms For Peace
And It Rained All Night
Harrowdown Hill
Cymbal Rush

Solo:

Open The Floodgates
Skirting On the Surface
Airbag
The Daily Mail

Encore 1:

Paperbag Writer (Radiohead cover)
Judge, Jury and Executioner
The Hollow Earth Play
Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses

Encore 2:

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)

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