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.
Atoms For Peace
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:
January 20, 2010
Haitian Relief Benefit
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Thom Yorke after a solid DJ set
There are many things I love about LA. One of them the weather (although a traffic nightmare this week), the ability to surf and then ski all in the same day, and last-minute benefit concerts featuring Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Gaz Coombes & Danny Goffey (Supergrass and The Hot Rats). Yes, Maroon 5 was there too, as were a slew of celebrities.
The reason for this impromptu gathering of creative sound purveyors was to raise money to provide additional relief to Haiti. The night offered the utmost gratifying experience as we simultaneously danced and generated funds for the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Maroon 5 played in the front room (aka the hotel lobby converted into a private space), while Yorke, Godrich, Coombes, and Goffey spun tunes in the bar. The DJ sets were a diverse blend of soulful classics, dubstep, hip hop, and hard hitting dance tracks. I spent the entire evening in the back room (aka Teddy’s) dancing, while overhearing occasional reports from the front room.
Two tips for next time, and then off to bed:
1. Thom Yorke is not a wedding DJ. Don’t go up and request songs – he knows music (dare I say) better than you
2. If you can’t find the bar, it’s time to stop drinking. Yes, toward the end of the night a woman actually walked up to the DJ booth, cash in hand, to order a drink. She was very disappointed to see her “bartender” replaced by Thom Yorke.
Only in Hollywood…
Many thanks to everybody who made the night what it was and for your contributions to providing relief in Haiti.
Although I was there tonight, I respectfully decided not to cover the final Thom Yorke show in order to give the real journalists time to catch up with the news and post more than a “quick take review.”
Besides, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. . . Somebody has probably already posted the entire concert on YouTube.
It seems you need to give the New York Times your email address (if you’re not already a member) if you’d like access to their article now. However, if you read the NYT review, this post makes a lot more sense.
The Thom Yorke Band, ??????, took the stage for night one of their two-night stint at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. The band came together approximately 3 weeks ago and is already blowing the minds of fans, friends, and yes, celebrities (seeing as these shows are the place to be) with their live performance. Not many musicians can form a band and successfully hit the stage so quickly. But we’re not talking about just any musicians – we’re talking about Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Flea, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco.
Tonight the Thom Yorke band played a set nearly identical to their rehearsal show at The Echoplex on Friday. They began by playing The Eraser, start to finish, in sequence. The crowd sat down during the first 4 songs which felt strange, considering the talent that was on the stage and the music they were playing. It must have felt strange to Yorke too because as soon as they finished “Black Swan” and before they kicked in to “Skip Divided” Yorke requested the audience stand up.
“You know when I was getting ready to do these shows, I was saying to a friend of mine, ‘Y’know I really hope they dance to this music.’ This was all about making a dance record. So if you do want to sit there like it’s a cinema, that’s ok. . . But if you do wanna get up, well. . .” Yorke announced as the crowd (finally) stood up and cheered.
I’m happy he said something. Otherwise, I was going to be that a$$hole who stands and blocks everyone’s view because I don’t know how to sit still for “Skip Divided,” “Atoms For Peace,” “And It Rained All Night,” “Harrowdown Hill” and “Cymbal Rush” (certainly can’t sit during “Cymbal Rush”). It was hard enough to sit during the first 4 songs (albeit easier to see).
Indeed, the show at The Orpheum had a different feel than Friday night’s intimate gathering at The Echoplex. For one thing, The Orpheum is a seated venue which divides the audience, interferes with one’s ability to dance, and requires an immense number of security staff to ensure people stay in their seat and don’t step outside the black tape and into the aisles. In this economy, it’s good to see there are jobs for such a large security team. At the same time, it definitely impacts the vibe of the show and restricts the crowd’s ability to express their excitement wholeheartedly.
Regardless, the show was spectacular. The percussion team of Waronker and Refosco put drum machines to shame as they somehow replicated and enhanced the beats heard on the recorded versions of the songs. Yorke danced around on stage some, but seemed quite a bit more reserved than he did at The Echoplex, where he danced like this (and then some) during every song. Perhaps he restrained himself, realizing the crowd wouldn’t be able to join him as they previously could due to the restrictive nature of the venue layout (and security crew).
But I know Yorke wanted to dance more. And he wanted us to dance more. So if you’re lucky enough to be attending the show Monday night, at least pretend you know how lucky you are to be there. There may be a lot of guys and gals in bright yellow jackets. . . but there are more of us!
Videos from the show (watch in HD for a better viewing experience):
Tweet of the day: “Secured tix to the semi-secret Thom Yorke and friends show tonight. This is why I live in LA…they don’t do this shit in Kansas” (@brandonyano).
Thom Yorke and Flea
At 8:28pm Monday night, September 28, The Scenestar broke the news that Radiohead front man Thom Yorke had put together a new band and would be playing at The Orpheum in Los Angeles on October 4th and 5th. Actually, let me rephrase – Yorke broke the news on Dead Airspace (although many of us heard about it first from The Scenestar), stating: “in the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a band together for fun to play the Eraser stuff live and the new songs etc.. to see if it could work! At the beginning of October the 4th and 5th we are going to do a couple of shows at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. We don’t really have a name and the set will not be very long cuz ..well …we haven’t got that much material yet!”
Thom Yorke singing a new song
Tickets for the October 4 and 5 shows went on sale Tuesday morning (September 29) at 10:00am and, as expected, sold out in minutes. Then, on Thursday morning (October 1), The LA Weekly posted a story surrounding a possible Thom Yorke and friends “secret show” at The Echoplex on Friday, October 2nd. Bloggers and fans speculated until Yorke posted another update on Dead Airspace late Thursday, confirming this additional, intimate show. Yorke’s post included a faulty link to purchase tickets, an announcement that tickets would go on sale at 8:15pm Thursday night, and the disclaimer, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That post has since been edited, because Yorke’s suspicions proved true and tickets did not go on sale at 8:15pm Thursday night. (Yorke also included a working link to buy tickets in his revised post.)
The band with no name
Instead, tickets were sold via TicketWeb at noon on Friday. The gap between the initial announcement and the actual on-sale gave scalpers (who later attempted to sell tickets for as much as $3,500 on eBay) enough time to ready their troops. Unfortunately, it seems TicketWeb may not have had enough time to ready their servers. Just minutes after the clock struck 12, there were hundreds of Tweets complaining of TicketWeb crashes and claiming “TicketWeb Fail”. I know it’s frustrating, but to be fair, some major ticketing sites (including Ticketmaster and Live Nation) have been reported to crash during high-profile on-sales. Furthermore, in this case, we’re talking about one of the largest artists in the world, playing at a very small venue (approx. 700 capacity). If the system did indeed crash, it should come as little to no surprise. As it happened, I was stuck in the “processing” queue for 12 minutes before the “sold out” message appeared.
Kind of a rehearsal
For the lucky friends and fans of the band who got in, well. . . we were lucky. Prior to the show I heard several audience members discussing the “little miracles” that allowed them to be there. Indeed, it felt miraculous to be introduced to new material and the formation of a new band led by Yorke, in such close proximity to the stage. This show was billed as a “warm-up,” as Yorke put it, “kind of a rehearsal.”
Well, I always imagined Yorke held himself to extraordinarily high standards, but if that show was a rehearsal, then a “rehearsal” has made its way into my top concerts of all time.
The band is comprised of exceptional musical talents: Thom Yorke (of course), Joey Waronker, Nigel Godrich, Flea , and Mauro Refosco. To kick off the show, the as of yet unnamed band played Yorke’s solo album, Eraser, start to finish. Yorke also debuted some brand new songs, solo, during one of two encores. He then invited the band back to join in on the remaining three songs.
Yorke gives the bird to requests for "Freebird"
If you were fortunate enough to find a place toward the front of the venue (under the high ceiling), you were treated to great sound, enjoyed watching Yorke lose himself in dance (although, you likely couldn’t miss that, regardless of where you stood), and watched closely as Yorke masterfully created and replicated the magnificent sound he’s known for. The intimacy of the venue was further appreciated as Yorke joked, interacted with, and flipped off the audience.
Yorke didn’t flip off everyone, just the handful of people who were requesting “Freebird!” between songs. Surprised people still do that? Well, so was Yorke, “Shouldn’t you be calling out Stone Temple Pilots or something more current? Freebird is so 80′s!”
Thankfully, ignoring the audience (after showing them how he felt about the “Freebird” requests by giving them the bird), Yorke kicked in to more of his own songs. “That sounded great!” yelled a fan, following the next song.
“Thank you,” Yorke replied with a smile, “it’s my job.” Then, with another smile (bordering on a smirk), Yorke added, “sometimes I get paid for it.”
And therein lies another small miracle of this show, tickets were only $20 each. Thank you, Thom and the unnamed band. Seeing as that was the rehearsal, I think you’re ready for the shows on Sunday and Monday.
Videos from the show:
New Song “Skirting On The Surface”:
New Song “Open The Floodgates”:
Next time, dance like you mean it, Thom
Since it was a special show, here’s the set list (via At Ease).
01 The Eraser
03 The Clock
04 Black Swan
05 Skip Divided
06 Atoms for Peace
07 And It Rained All Night
08 Harrowdown Hill
09 Cymbal Rush
Encore one [Thom solo]:
10 Open the Floodgates
11 Lotus Flower
12 Skirting on the Surface
13 Judge, Jury, Executioner
Encore two [full band]:
14 Paperbag Writer
15 The Hollow Earth
16 Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses