Thom Yorke, Echoplex, October 2, 2009
To retell it, it sounds almost surreal, as if out of a dream: “Thom Yorke was playing the Echoplex. It was dark and smoky and smelled of incense. Some jazz was playing. Flea was on bass. Then he played four new, possibly Radiohead songs by himself. Har Mar Superstar stepped on my foot at the bar.” Well, all this really happened (maybe that last one just to me). And sorry, Rest of the World, it’s happening in Los Angeles.
A satisfying 16-song set covering a wide range of sonic dynamics, Thom debuted a new 5-piece band at Echoplex Friday night, ahead of a pair of shows at the Orpheum Theatre. “Welcome to the rehearsal,” he deadpanned as a greeting, then proceeded to work out the whole of The Eraser, both sides of his new 12” and–key here for the fans–an encore of four brand new ones, which may or may not grow up be Radiohead tunes. In fact, atypical for live crowds, and a measure of the intensity of fandom Radiohead begets, new songs are not only respectfully received, but hoped for (and promptly YouTubed).
Fashionably shaggy in cowboy shirt, high-top kicks and his usual light beard, Thom was in playful mood throughout–chatting between tunes, throwing out a few words out in a jokey American accent, name checking Stone Temple Pilots for some reason (anyone?), even throwing up a double middle finger response to something shouted out I didn’t catch. (Surely legions of fans will make a snapshot of that moment their new online avatar.) Though maybe he’s always like this up close; it can be hard to tell from the hillside benches at the Hollywood Bowl, the usual vantage point from which myself and thousands of others usually are able to catch a glimpse of him in this town.
The show didn’t feel nearly as short and haphazard as Thom might have modestly implied it might be on his blog (“…to see if it would work!”) The Eraser is the centerpiece of the show and is compelling in this new live arrangement. The backline of Nigel Godrich (keys, vocals and laptop), Joey Waronker (drums and samples) and Mauro Refosco (percussion and keys) breathe a second life into the recorded versions of the tunes, augmenting electronics with old-fashioned hand percussion. Flea, whose inclusion was understandably the focal point of much fan consternation, should win over any cranky message board doubters. Anyone who recently saw him play with the Patti Smith Band recently, knows he can hold down the rhythm while also laying back. His playing tonight was just right, giving the tunes some real backbone while his enthusiasm for the material came across in his familiar spastic head twists the whole time. Even the bass line funk of “Paperbag Writer,” the sole previously-released Radiohead song played, was noodled with tasteful restraint. There were a few moments when he and Thom shared smiles on stage, surely a bit of connection between the two rock stars who routinely perform for massive crowds internationally, presently holding over a with about 600 or so.
The four new ones from the encore are already the talk of the internet. They’re mostly in Thom’s familiar piano and guitar modes of recent Radiohead output, maybe some shades of past tunes such as “Pyramid Song,” “These Are My Twisted Words” and “Follow Me Around” in there. The upshot is there’s not a dud in the batch, even the “brand, brand, brand, brand, brand new, brand, brand new one,” as he put it, “Lotus Flower” is a fully formed and rich on arrival. No huge departures, but none really needed at this point. There’s no telling what final forms they might take once (if) Radiohead gets their hands on them.
With new solo projects from front men of thriving younger bands on the way by Julian Casablancas and Paul Banks, maybe we’re hitting a golden era wherein the technological means of quickly assembling a record and a tour have caught up to the more ambitious artists’ whimsy. The risk in these excursions, of course, is that that the secondary project gets branded with the dreaded indulgent tag and turns off fans. So far, Thom has managed to do right by his fanbase and his solo departure is a worthwhile tide-over until Radiohead reemerge. But just don’t make us wait too long for that follow up to In Rainbows, OK?
Atoms for Peace
And It Rained All Night
Open The Floodgates
Skirting On The Surface
Judge, Jury, Executioner
The Hollow Earth
Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
Thom Yorke @ Orpheum Theatre Sun 10/4
Thom Yorke @ Orpheum Theatre Mon 10/5