It was a warm spring evening at the Santa Barbara Bowl when Atoms For Peace took the stage to a sold out crowd. There had been a buzz in the air of Thom Yorke's side-project/super-group for some time, but it was unclear how such discordant threads of music being described as danceable and intellectual/alienated pop, could share a common thread; and moreover create a sound that resonated with listeners in thought and groove. To say such a fusion was accomplished would be a mass understatement.
Few artists (Thom Yorke being excluded) would be able to tour for a solo album "The Eraser" that was released nearly four years ago & have it sound fresher than the day it was released. This was in part to the nearly entire re-imagining of the album by the super-group comprised of Thom Yorke on guitar, piano, and funky dance moves; Flea on bass and appearing as a giant blue-haired smurf (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Nigel Godrich on guitar and keyboards (producer for Radiohead, etc); Joey Waronker on drums (from Beck's band); and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco (from David Byrne’s band).
The set opened rather mellow with Thom on piano, playing the title track from the album "The Eraser" on a near darkened stage, with the melancholy tome "the more you try to erase me - the more - the more that I appear". Through the end of the opening song it really resembled what you might expect, ala a Radiohead concert. What I was anticipating, though not understanding how i would feel about it, was the danceable interpretation of much of the rest of the set, starting with their next song "Analyse". The sound was both intellectually gripping as well as movingly rhythmic. It was as if Thom and Flea were channeling the music, letting it move them as it streamed through them - en route to the audience. Rarely have I ever seen musicians enjoying what they are doing so much. It was truly infectious. In just a few songs I understood what I'd read about Atoms For Peace, and was converted to Thom and Flea's church of groove...
The show continued on, including the entirety of the album "The Eraser"; though it was a distinctly different to the album release. Songs like "Black Swan" and latter "Harrowdown Hill", now had heavy percussion and infections grooves which accompanied the melancholy lyrics, creating a sound that made band members and audience alike, dance and writhe. There were moments in the night where Thom was alone again on the darkened stage and gave the acoustic interlude of Radiohead songs including "Everything in It's Right Place" and "Videotape". These were minimalist renditions, in-between the melancholy dance-procession that the evening had aptly become.
As the evening was wrapping up, Thom & Co shared a few new rather inspired songs, such as "Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses" and "Judge Jury and Executioner". On the last one Thom said to some people at the front of the stage "I'm surprised you recognize this song, but I'd be really impressed if you know the words - because I don't entirely know them yet".
Seeing Thom & Co live was well worth it. I hope they tour again so you can see what I mean. With any luck, this line-up will record live, to commemorate this sound...