Atoms for Peace - Barclays Center - 9/27/13

Categories: Last Night

Thom Yorke of Atoms for Peace

Better than: The "slappeh da bass" scene from I Love You Man.

"Hi, my name's Justin Bieber," Thom Yorke said in a high voice when he came back onstage for Atoms for Peace's first encore Friday night at the Barclays Center. While a quip like that was somewhat to be expected--the AFP mastermind was wearing a tank top, first of all, and he had already claimed to be Jay Z (and introduced Flea, who happened to be wearing a skirt this time, as Beyonce) a few days ago at their tour kick-off in Philadelphia--the rest of Atoms for Peace's set, which seemed to rend the fabric of space and time along the reverberating rhythm section and the jagged, glowing Amok album art-like backdrop, was not.

See also: On AMOK, Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace Embrace Big, Scary Technology

Weird Al's bassist, Steve Jay, once said he learned from West African musicians that the bass guitar--or any instrument, for that matter--should be treated as an entity with a spirit of its own rather than a tool that exists solely for humans' use; so he wore his bass low, because he believed that the musician should have to struggle, to reach for the sound he was creating. The two most prominent members of Atoms for Peace ascribe to this rule, often seeming possessed by the music they make rather than trying to control it. For most of the show Flea was bent doubled over his bass, hopping on one foot and then the other like he was on a bed of hot coals. Before the skittering drums kicked in on ominously smoldering "Unless," he removed himself to the side of the stage, where he could be seen pogo-ing around even more frantically until he could rejoin Yorke. During the thrumming bass line on "Dropped," he even executed a couple of Robert Pollard-style high kicks.

The physical and sonic chemistry between the two men drove the show, to the point where the energy in the space palpably went down (even the lights went from red-hot to blue) during Thom Yorke's repurposed solo material from 2006's The Eraser and elsewhere. They're both good, spastic dancers--Flea a bit more so, as the precariously high slit in his skirt crept ever higher--that seem to emit these Matrix-style force fields that move the other; it was actually touching when Yorke sat at the baby grand piano for "Ingenue" and Flea stood nearly motionless in the middle of the stage, as if cursed to wander the desert forever without his other half. That song was actually a bit disappointing, because a) Yorke didn't bust out his fully synchronized dance routine and b) the song's hallmark swooning, horn-y synth line was virtually absent until the end. And when Nigel Godrich's keyboards did finally come in, strikingly acute, they rippled uncomfortably through what was left of the song.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about Atoms for Peace's set was simply how powerful each sound was. Amok, Atoms for Peace's full-length debut from earlier this year, is certainly kinetic, but on the record Flea's bass merely hums as an undercurrent underneath it all. In a live setting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist moves the air and everyone breathing it like another string on his instrument. Not to be outdone, the percussionists knocked out clattering rhythms and slithering hi-hats with military precision, and Thom Yorke's voice was the fragile glue holding everything together.

After shaking his ponytail at the audience as a sign of respectful thanks at the end of the first encore, Yorke came back out for the second encore and strayed onto a dais in the photo pit for "Atoms for Peace." Gesturing toward the ecstatic audience reaching toward him, he sang, "Take me in your arms." After two encores and before a crowd already screaming for a third, he didn't even need to ask.

Atoms for Peace set list on the next page.

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My review:

You know you’re a rock star when your offshoot side project of another one of your side projects fills Barclay’s Center. On Friday September 27th Atoms for Peaces played Barclays Center, the second stop on the North American leg of their tour for their 2013 release Amok.

The brainchild of Radiohead front man Thom Yorke and producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich Atoms for Peace is a continuation of Yorke and Godrich’s foray into the world of dance club music that started with the 2006 release The Eraser.

Amok the record is definitely best listened to on headphones. It is not traditional dance music and at times its bizarre harmonic swathes evoke Schoenberg rather than Tiesto, but to pump up the energy live Yorke and Godrich recruited the Chili Pepper’s Flea on bass, the excellent Joey Waronker of Beck (and R.E.M if you care about R.E.M.) on drums, and percussionist Mauro Refosco.

On the record, Godrich’s produced beats and loops amply power the tracks, but live these tracks combined live with the heavily stacked rhythm section of Flea, Waronker, and Refosco created something that was on the surface dance music, but with a mesmerizing funked-out polyrhythmic Brazilian Samba school flavor that, in the good old fashioned way, kind of rocked.

Flea and York jumped around the stage with boundless energy while flawlessly staying connected to the rhythm section’s super tight, hypnotic grooves. Yorke’s voice soared like ambrosial audio above the mix, but production wise, the show seemed under rehearsed. Song endings were messy, either too abrupt, or trailing off without conviction, the lighting tech missing cues, dimming stage lights seconds too late, after songs had clearly already ended. It seemed obvious that their were kinks in the live show had yet to be ironed out.

In a venue as large as Barclays Center an act really has to bring all they got if the want to supercharge it. Despite the numbers of screaming fans, and the dazzling and impressive LCDs that backdroped the stage full of gear, the band just couldn’t power the venue. Despite all the on stage energy, the show felt more like something you’d watch at Radio City than a stadium rock show. Even the actual volume of the sound itself was very low. I am notorious for wearing earplugs, and for this show, I took them out. The most disappointing factor of all was the shortness of their set. I felt it there should have been, at the absolute minimum, five more songs.

Although the show was bit of an overall disappointment, still, for a Yorke devotee like myself, the rarity of witnessing Yorke’s Midas touch live was far more reverberant than the disappointment that Atom’s for Peace music is just proper stadium rock.

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