When asked what show I saw Saturday night at the Aragon Ballroom, I have had a hard time spitting it out. Not because Atoms For Peace is hard to say, but because I worry it does not have much immediate name recognition with people yet. “Thom Yorke with Flea and others” spills out of my mouth over the proper band name. I convey the essential information, sure, but with sputtering lips and a spasmodic tongue.
After giving the crowd a wave, Yorke moved stage left to a baby grand piano and began playing the stuttering figure that introduces “The Eraser,” the title track of his 2006 solo album. The tubes emanating black light above the band illuminated the Aragon’s celestial ceiling. Yorke ditched the baby grand in favor of an electric guitar for the song’s climax. When the sharp sounds of his guitar attack combined with the pop of Flea’s bass, I was left wondering if this music came from another world or had taken us to one.
How many times has Flea left writers using words and phrases that do more to call attention to the writer than to bring into the readers’ mind an image of the man in action on stage? I will say this: to watch Flea perform is to experience the music twice. His bass playing is second to none, and to watch the music move through the entirety of his body is a window into the mind of a man that sees past scales and rhythms and into the heart of music. The power of his playing often had the pack of smokes in my chest reverberating.
The first set was The Eraser played in order, and the final three songs—“And It Rained All Night,” “Harrowdown Hill,” and “Cymbal Rush”—were simply phenomenal. The liveliness of a full band playing these songs cannot be overstated. Where the preciseness of the CD can at times build a rift between the listener and the music, the exact opposite happened live: there was an immediacy that was only acknowledge by the dancing of the crowd.
The second set opened with Yorke wearing an electric guitar and mumbling something about a “new Radiohead tune” that he went on to play. He then moved to the baby grand and reined the audience back in with a captivating solo rendition of “Everything In It’s Right Place.”
The set really took off when the rest of the band joined him. Where the first set left little room for surprises, the second never ceased to blow me away with its badass funkiness. Drummer Joey Waronker (Beck) and Mauro Refosco, playing a variety of drums and percussive instruments, were incredible—tight, urgent, impossibly on time, and possibly sprouting extra limbs.
The penultimate song, “The Hollow Earth,” was a percussive eruption deftly balanced by Nigel Godrich’s keyboard and guitar accents and vocal harmonies. Godrich, often referred to as Radiohead’s sixth member, was sublime all night; he really should be in this review more. Atoms For Peace closed with “Pulled Apart By Horses,” an epic, orgasmic mess of guitar bouncing across speakers, drums crashing and keys cascading, and Flea’s bass somehow acting as an anchor to it all.
Walking towards the doors, my mind finally realized the crisis my bladder was in, but more importantly, I knew that I had experienced one of the great live shows of my life.