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Thom Yorke. (Courtesy of Nasty Little Man)

Atoms For Peace Doing It Live, Sort Of

by Charlie Kaplan
Mar 15, 2013

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"We went to Flea's house and played pool all night and listened to Fela Kuti and it was like, this is good," Thom Yorke told All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen in an interview with Atoms For Peace - a super-group that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist as well as long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco. "It started out with like a laptop album, all made in headphones, confined beats and confined structure, and suddenly it's become this other thing completely. But yet, it's always been informed by that."

Atoms for Peace's debut album Amok has two feet solidly in the electronic music that has informed Yorke's work with Radiohead for a decade, but it's also "this other thing completely" — something alive and present. So it should surprise no one that, despite its billing as a "DJ Set," Atoms for Peace's show at New York City's Le Poisson Rouge Thursday night was another thing completely too.

Yorke and Godrich met laptops on stage, but it was obvious immediately that they wouldn't be donning their DJ hats — something Yorke once said firmly he's not. For one, Yorke sang live. The two played a set of new material, works from Yorke's solo album The Eraser (which Atoms for Peace was formed to perform back in 2009) and unreleased tracks. They replaced Amok's intermittent elements of live instrumentation with the live-mixed electronic rudiments that were their inspiration, Yorke's vocals clear among them. And in many ways it was a purer image of an album by a band of considerable musicianship; a vision of the music as it was conceived, rather than as it was arranged.

The audience was rapturous. Yorke's star power was not lost on them. Everything from the false start on "Dropped," to the first chords of "The Eraser," to Yorke's adjustments to his hair drew "I-can't-believe-this-is-happening!" cheers from a lucky subset of one of the most passionate fanbases out there. In fact, his allure might have been too strong. An excellent opening DJ set from Arca was met with indifference, to say nothing of the confusion experimental electronic artist Holly Herndon's innovative vocal extended playing techniques elicited.

The show began with Amok standout "Ingenue," a track that is, in many ways, representative of the development of Yorke's songwriting over the past few years — since Radiohead's The King of Limbs. From the 6/8 clave of that album's "Good Morning Mr. Magpie" to Amok's "Before Your Very Eyes" and "Stuck Together Pieces," Yorke's music is now focused on, as he told Boilen, "the crossover between [dubstep] and the whole Afro beat rhythms." And with a coda of actual DJing that featured tracks like De La Soul's "A Rollerskating Jam Called 'Saturdays'" — talk about another thing completely — Atoms For Peace surprised as an eminently danceable group from beginning to end.

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