I’ve always argued that when you get to a certain age, or a certain level of fame, you simply stop giving a fuck what anyone thinks. In recent years, I’ve continually cited my grandma as a prime example of this phenomenon, and as of Thursday I officially added Thom Yorke and Flea to my list.
At the helm of Atoms for Peace, the Radiohead frontman and the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist chose to keep things simple, which, in their minds, meant matching floor-length skirts and black shirts. But no matter — the heart of the performance was all in the “dance moves,” which amounted to a series of spaz-outs (Thom) and twirls (Flea) that often threatened to overshadow the actual music.
Atoms for Peace at the Santa Barbara Bowl October 17, 2013
Lucky for us, though, Atoms for Peace’s live set lives up to both its principals (the lineup was rounded out by drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Godrich) and its recorded counterparts. Drawing heavily on the world-music influences Yorke so often cites, Thursday’s set included heaps of steel drums, sitar-inspired guitar tones, and naturalistic samples. Early on, “Ingenue” smartly paired Yorke’s piano with a flurry of drums and cajon; later, “Dropped” melded Caribbean percussion with an onslaught of industrial strength synths.
For Yorke fans, the night proved the second best thing to seeing Radiohead in the flesh. The cuts from Yorke’s solo effort, The Eraser, were peppered throughout the setlist. The whole production was backed by an epic and dazzling display of lights and projections. “Paperbag Writer” even made an appearance. And save for the few peculiar speak-sing breakdowns (“Rabbit in Your Headlights”), the singer’s voice was as haunting and malleable as ever.
In recent years, half of the fun of catching Yorke live has become watching him move. (Seriously. There are whole YouTube channels devoted to the spectacle.) And, personally speaking, it’s hard to imagine a better foil to his flailing limbs and worm-like body rolls than Flea’s spring-loaded stage presence. Musically, the highlight of the night came with “Amok,” which found the band layering guitars on top of guitars to stunning effect. But my favorite moment took place during the long, jammy breakdown of “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses,” whereby Flea and Yorke dabbled in jazz, laid the funk on thick, and danced around like sugar high kids in a candy store. Simply put, it was as unabashed, unpretentious, and ridiculous-looking as cerebral art rock gets.
1. “Before Your Very Eyes”
3. “The Clock” (from The Eraser)
6. “And It Rained All Night” (from The Eraser)
7. “Harrowdown Hill” (from The Eraser)
9. “Cymbal Rush”
10. “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” (from The Eraser)
12. “Rabbit In Your Headlights” (UNKLE cover)
13. “Paperbag Writer” (Radiohead cover)
15. “Atoms for Peace” (from The Eraser)
16. “Black Swan” (from The Eraser)