The band Atoms for Peace was first put together to perform the songs off Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's 2006 ambient rock masterwork / Yorke-werk The Eraser. Joining Yorke in the band is the inimitable Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and guitar, Joey Waronker from Beck's band on drums, and Mauro Refosco, who plays with David Byrne and Red Hot Chili Peppers, on percussion.
We were lucky that Atoms for Peace played a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl back in April 2010, thanks in part to Yorke's fondness for our town and the Bowl itself.
For their return trip, the band played much of The Eraser, including some of the evening's best songs: "The Clock," "And It Rained All Nigh," "Atoms for Peace" and "Black Swan."
When Radiohead released the avant rock album Kid A back in 2000, it was a radical change in direction for the band. I'm old enough to remember that when it came out a lot of people were scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the band's soaring guitar rock anthems.
Atoms for Peace's debut album Amok, released this year, is similar in spirit to Kid A, and while I find it to be a bit too chilled out on record, the songs from this album had a welcome energy boost in the live setting.
The energy of the songs at the concert came from the remarkable and more prominent rhythms, including drumming that was ultra-precise without being sterile. The rhythms were at times reminiscent of the Talking Heads — for example, for the show opener "Before Your Very Eyes ..." — and, as for the Talking Heads, they often draw inspiration from the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, who would have turned 75 years old two days before this concert. The rhythms inspired lots of animated free-form dancing from Yorke throughout the evening, which the crowd absolutely loved.
Although I imagine that, like me, most people were drawn to fixate on Yorke during the show, Flea also had a larger-than-life stage presence manifested in some impassioned playing and grooving out. Incidentally, both Flea and Yorke were wearing long, dark skirts, all the better to dance with, my dear.
Before Your Very Eyes
In addition to the amazing music, there was a super-cool light show, something we have learned to look forward to at a concert with Yorke's presence. This time there were zigzagging glowing tubes and square banks of lights that hit the whole spectrum of colors, often flashing for added effect.
All told, the Atoms for Peace concert was a feast of sound and vision, and I can't wait for Thom Yorke to make it back to Santa Barbara — in whatever way his muse dictates.
Before Your Very Eyes
The Clock (from The Eraser)
And It Rained All Night (from The Eraser)
Harrowdown Hill (from The Eraser)
Cymbal Rush (from The Eraser)
Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses (from The Eraser)
Rabbit in Your Headlights (UNKLE song)
Paperbag Writer (Radiohead song)
Atoms for Peace (from The Eraser)
Black Swan (from The Eraser)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.