"Hi, my name is Justin Bieber," deadpanned Thom Yorke last night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. "And this is Justin Bieber," he chuckled, gesturing to bassist Flea. The crowd laughed: there could be no mistake about who the performers onstage were. From the cheap seats, thousands of fans looked spellbound, their faces lit softly by the eerie blue light of their smartphones.
The evening featured cuts from Atoms for Peace's debut LP, Amok, out earlier this year, as well as a number of tracks from Thom Yorke's solo album, The Eraser. The set also included a cover of Radiohead's sinister "Paperbag Writer," and of UNKLE's "Rabbit in Your Headlights." The overall tone of the set was one of intense paranoia and unease: Yorke and company have long excelled at capturing the cultural zeitgeist with their jittery, unsettling music, and last night was no exception.
There were, however, moments where the shuffling, claustrophobic tracks parted to reveal Yorke's disarmingly beautiful falsetto. "Ingenue" (with its central synthesizer squeal replaced by a piano), "Cymbal Rush," and "Atoms for Peace" were gorgeous, and lent variety to the long and predominantly dark performance. The evening closed with "Black Swan" from The Eraser, which took on a powerful anthemic quality.
While the night was, first and foremost, about the music, no review of an Atoms for Peace show is complete without acknowledging the dancing: notably, Thom and Flea. Thom is, at this point in his career, relatively well-known for his jerky and hyperactive moves. This is part of what makes him such a great performer: one a scale from shoegaze to 10, Thom Yorke's dancing is about a 12. What fewer people mention, however, is Flea's equally energetic dancing. He darted around the stage and occasionally threw in an impressive high-kick--all while playing the bass.
Ultimately, it's hard to find much to criticize about an Atoms for Peace concert. The band, whose full line-up includes producer Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco, is full of seasoned performers (they don't call it a supergroup for nothing), and it showed. Amid the lights and effects and all of the (primarily Flea- and Yorke-initiated) hubbub onstage, it's easy to lose sight of just how incredible the music itself is. But the music was layered and complex and expertly-executed: Atoms for Peace played (and danced) their hearts out, and it's hard to imagine any fans having left feeling disappointed.