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Jeff Moehlis: Atoms for Peace Puts Everything in Its Right Place
Radiohead hasn’t always done things the way they “should” have. After their 1997 critically lauded and commercially successful guitar rock album OK Computer, they “should” have done a followup along the same lines. Instead, their next album, 2000’s Kid A, was essentially an electronica album, albeit with rock sensibilities.
This may have seemed like a shock to some at the time, but history has already proven Radiohead right: OK Computer is viewed as one of the best albums of the 1990s, and the very different Kid A as one of the best albums of the 2000s.
Then there was the distribution of Radiohead’s latest album, 2007’s In Rainbows. They “should” have released the album on CD, maybe also vinyl for the die-hards, while also selling downloads for 99 cents a song. Instead, it was initially distributed only online, with people allowed to pick their price. Not only was this brilliant marketing — how many times were they mentioned in the popular media because of this? — but it also was a forward-thinking strategy for getting their music to the masses while being compensated financially by people who recognize that musicians deserve to be paid.
My last example concerns Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who in 2006 released an ambient rock masterwork called The Eraser. He “should” have toured at that time to promote this album. Instead, apart from “Cymbal Rush” sometimes making it into Radiohead’s setlist, Yorke let the album speak for itself.
But now, nearly four long years later, The Eraser is being reworked and celebrated by Atoms for Peace, a band consisting of Yorke on lead vocals, piano, guitar and — yes — dancing; blue-haired Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, melodica and more dancing; Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards, guitar and background vocals; Joey Waronker from Beck’s band on drums; and Mauro Refosco from David Byrne’s band on percussion.
(The band name comes from one of the songs from The Eraser. Personally, I would’ve voted for the band name Eraserhead.)
Indeed, what was most striking was the rhythm of the songs, driven with remarkable machinelike — but not soulless — precision by Waronker and Refosco and fueling the frenetic dancing by Yorke and Flea. In addition to the more prominent drums and percussion, there were other rearrangements with respect to the album, such as the end of the song “The Eraser” being played by Yorke on guitar rather than piano, and Flea’s Middle Eastern melodica lines on “Skip Divided.” Amazingly, the band really improved upon what is already a stellar album.
After finishing playing “The Eraser” and a quick break, Yorke’s return was welcomed by a pink bra thrown onstage, to which he amusingly responded that it “still puzzles me how you can do that.” Then, alone with just an acoustic guitar, he played a cool new song called “Give Up the Ghost,” in which he looped his vocals and guitar to build up a band’s worth of sound.
Next he switched to piano and covered two rapturously received Radiohead songs: “Videotape” and “Everything in Its Right Place,” the latter being the lead track off Kid A, and as such the first shot in Radiohead’s ambient rock direction.
The band then returned for Radiohead B-side “Paperbag Writer,” the new song “Judge, Jury and Executioner” and both songs from Yorke’s recent single: “The Hollow Earth” and the show-closing return to rhythm, the brilliant “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses.”
The evening started with an enjoyable set by Los Angeles-based trio Autolux, who offered up distortion-heavy songs that would appeal to fans of Sonic Youth. Their second studio album will be released on TBD Records, the company that released Radiohead’s In Rainbows several months after its Internet-only pick-your-price release.
It’s not entirely clear what the future holds for Atoms for Peace — or Radiohead for that matter. Just don’t expect them to do what they “should” do. For now, let’s just feel lucky to have witnessed this amazing show in Santa Barbara.
Atoms for Peace
And it Rained All Night
Give Up the Ghost
Everything in its Right Place
Judge, Jury, and Executioner
The Hollow Earth
Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.
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