April 14, 2010
Fox Theater, Oakland
I’ve been seeing live music, almost every night, around the world, for the better part of 15 years (including many Radiohead shows), and I’ve never experienced what occurred last night at The Fox Theater in Oakland. If there’s something beyond “music,” then it happened last night and I, along with 2,799 of the most energetic and dedicated music fans, witnessed it.
Thom Yorke, Joey Waronker, Flea, Nigel Godrich, and Mauro Refosco make up Atoms For Peace (formerly known as “??????” or “The Thom Yorke Band“). Before they had a name, the band debuted and played three rehearsal shows in Los Angeles. Having been to all 3 shows, I had high expectations for last night, but I didn’t expect that the Thom Yorke Band could get much better than the phenomenal group they were in October 2009. They announced their new name, Atoms For Peace, on March 1st and along with the name, they became something else. They have transcended music.
I’m going to share something with you that nobody else who reviews the show will. If you want to understand what’s happening to you, or the people who swear by Radiohead/Thom Yorke/Atoms For Peace, when you’re at one of their shows, close your eyes. Each song transmits a different and definitive directional vibration. You can feel it moving through your body – sometimes pulsing down, through your feet, to the earth; sometimes swaying, rocking, or pounding side to side; sometimes spiraling from the core out, literally taking you outside yourself; and often times straight up from the earth, through your feet, up your body, and beyond the sky. Sound is vibration, and it’s healing. Thom Yorke has an understanding of how to articulate that vibration in an exceptionally powerful way, which is why people are so passionate about the music — you feel it, it physiologically moves you. Many musicians write songs. Thom Yorke is a composer. He’s precise and intentional. When you consciously experience it, you realize that it’s beyond music, it’s Channeled. Downloaded. Shared. When people talk about it as a “religious experience” that’s what they mean.
It’s so powerful that at one point last night, Yorke got so caught up in the sound and dancing, that he forgot to start his part. The music kicked in, Yorke felt it, and got lost in the dance. Next thing everybody knows, he’s forgotten to actually start singing. “Oh, that was me. . .” he said with a laugh as the band stopped and restarted.
Be sure to open your eyes again and watch Mauro Refosco and the instruments he plays, from around the world, that contribute greatly to that vibration. Refosco is among the best percussionists in the world and Atoms For Peace teams him up with the also-brilliant, Joey Waronker on drums. You need to really watch them in order to constantly remind yourself that there’s no drum machine making this happen, these guys are creating those beats live. Observe how the vibration moves through Flea – sometimes it appears as if he has to reign it in in order to hit the next note on the bass. Then, there’s Nigel Godrich, who has produced Radiohead, Beck, and Travis to name a few. Seeing him on stage, watching the countless smiles that cross his face while he plays, you begin to understand how Godrich creates what he does, in collaboration, with these bands.
I’m not the only one who felt that way after last night’s show. Following the 2nd encore (or “third bit” as Yorke likes to call it), the lights came on, the house music came on, the mics came off, equipment was removed. The stage was well on its way to being broken down (as much as it would be considering they’re playing there again tonight). The crowd cheered for at least 20 minutes. The roar, clapping, and chanting was intense. At times, some people would feel defeat (as more and more equipment was removed from stage, and the house music seemed to get louder). But as that happened and you looked around, you felt the collective consciousness of the people in the room reminding you not to give up. “Do not stop until we bring them back,” was the overwhelming sentiment. Then, another surge of applause, stomping, and cheers would erupt. As this happened, you couldn’t help but feel life at its most perfect manifestation – a community of people, making things happen, not allowing others to give up or admit defeat, supportive, encouraging, enduring, with passion and fervor, to achieve a shared vision. This was communicated first through the music, embodied by the audience, and then reflected back to the band. That’s how you say, “thank you!”
Then, the mics were replaced, the equipment was moved back to position, and Thom returned to the stage, signaling, with deep gratitude, that we were crazy. And he’s right. Until the majority realize and embody the power of collective positive intention, we will be the “crazy” ones. That’s okay because we were also the exceptionally happy ones and the first audience to experience a third encore on this tour. Shrieks of “We did it!!”, thunderous applause, and high fives circulated among the audience and then Atoms For Peace played a few more “bits.”
If at any point in life you encounter somebody who was at *that* show, you will know it. You will feel something different emanating from them.
I only captured “3 bits” of this, but it’ll give you a better idea of what that moment felt like:
And a bit of the magic that preceded it: