Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Concert: Atoms for Peace (Aragon Ballroom, Chicago)

The future of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's newly named (and fairly recently formed) side project, Atoms for Peace, remains uncertain, but if the supergroup's consecutive sold-out shows at the Aragon on Saturday and Sunday are any indication, he's taking their work together seriously - and clearly having a lot of fun.

As the band (featuring Flea on bass, Joey Waronker on drums, Maruo Refosco on percussion, and programming/keys by Nigel Godrich) worked its way through the first set -- the entirety of Yorke's 2006 LP, The Eraser, in succession -- it quickly became evident that Yorke sees the band and tour as an opportunity to give new life to the electronic dirge of his solo work. Some of Flea's funkiness must've rubbed off on Yorke, because while the former's eccentric strutting is to be expected, Thom also wasted no time busting slinky moves that he's rarely exhibited while fronting that other band.

Indeed, Yorke felt looser than normal, as did his songs, by being provided a different venue (much of the appeal of a side project) in the group's musical reworkings. By the third number, "The Clock," Eraser's tunes took on an energy not present on the record, offering a more organic counterpart to the album's starkness. While Flea performed the menacing keyboard loop of "Skip Divided" on a melodica, Yorke rocked a cowbell, and both swayed under giant, Radioheadesque neon lights. With its decrescendo into piano and haunting vocals before building back into a frantic finish, "Harrowdown Hill" proved an evening standout, and a testament to the transformative power of live percussion.

Although the band left the stage after album closer "Cymbal Rush," Yorke reemerged not long after, performing a brief solo set each night, finally getting above average sound out of the notoriously sonically-unfriendly venue. On Sunday, he began with the new "Lotus Flower" -- which would fit comfortably on a Radiohead record, as is rumored -- on electric guitar. Yorke moved to piano for the unlikely next song, Radiohead's disorienting "Like Spinning Plates," rendered here as a pretty ballad.
He closed with Radiohead anthem "Airbag," another initially surprising choice, given its wealth of instrumentation on record. But as with the rest of the evening's material, it was given new life - in this case, on acoustic guitar. Needless to say, the crowd went wild. (Saturday's encore set featured new Yorke solo song "A Walk Down the Staircase;" unreleased Radiohead track "I Froze Up;" and another Radiohead classic in "Everything in its Right Place," which I'm sad I missed.)

Immediately following, the band took the stage again with the creepy, dancy Radiohead B-side "Paperbag Writer," then launched into "Judge, Jury, and Executioner," which Yorke called the group's first original song when they debuted it last fall. AfP closed with two new band songs, the bouncy "Hollow Earth," and jam session "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses," each of which sounded like funkier, fuller versions of Eraser material, similar to "Judge, Jury." (The band's encore setlist was the same both nights.)
As far as I'm concerned, Yorke is three-for-three, considering Radiohead, an impressive solo debut, and now, an exciting handful of new Atoms for Peace songs all under his belt. Exploring an opportunity to further stretch his creative muscles can only be a good thing for his full-time gig . . . y'know, fronting the World's Best Band.


Eric said...

ugg. so jealous, ya rat bastard

John G. Potter said...

Yeah, it was pretty sweet. Don't worry, we'll see them again. (Preferably not while rain-soaked.)

dong said...