Live: Atoms For Peace @ Club Amok (Cafe Fais Do Do), June 14, 2013
First off, let’s not call it a “surprise” show–surprise shows aren’t announced on broadcast radio a week in advance, followed by several all but conclusive tweets, leading to seven days of online buzz. Maybe call it a short notice or intimate or exclusive show. Or, just call it a “rehearsal” as Thom joked.
Turning Fais Do Do into “Club Amok” for the night, complete with postering inside and out with the familiar monochromatic print art by Stanley Donwood and a marquee modestly branding it “A Benefit for All Mankind,” Atoms for Peace, performed for free (more or less) for a small crowd last Friday, a warm-up in advance of their forthcoming tour that begins in July in Europe and winds it way back here for a Hollywood Bowl show on October 16.
With Thom in baggy tank top, sensible ponytail and New Balance kicks, alongside Flea in sweatpants and occasional T-shirt, comfort seemed to be a theme–comfort between the band’s members, their comfort with the city, a first or second home to most of the band, and by extension, level of comfort with us, as an audience, with whom they’re willing to share first airings of new songs in an intimate setting. The five-piece (Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Mauro Refosco, along with aforementioned duo) delivered most of Amok’s public live debut, mixing in a good chunk of Thom’s The Eraser and a couple of Thom/Radiohead deep tracks–20 songs in all.
The Thom Yorke and Flea aspect will be the an obvious focus for some, fair enough, given their star power with their other bands, but once you take in AFP as a whole, you see the unit functions very much as a band, locked in, tight and playing off one another’s energy. Sidebar: Mauro may be the least well known of the five, but his contribution is essential. It’s fairly impressive to see how much of the range of percussive clicking and clacking you might assume are samples he replicates live on an array of percussion (I had to Wiki him: the man literally holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Percussion.)
They hew mostly to the album versions, synth basses and Flea’s electric bass alternately trading off, dueling and locking in for some serious low end wobble. Thom’s voice was on point throughout, though you sense maybe tonight he is not going to push it, as a veteran facing an upcoming tour. That occasional dread that weaves through Amok (as well as The Eraser and, of course, the darker corners of the Radiohead catalog) is offset a bit by the fun these guys clearly have in playing these songs. In a live setting, the songs come up for air before things get too heavy.
As a production, Amok is a dense rhythmic collage, multi-textured with lots of sounds both organic and synthesized, blended with lots of treatments, zooming all around the stereo spectrum. Live, songs get stripped slightly to essentials and some parts naturally are lower in a rock club mix, but the tunes are none the worse for it because the underpinning songwriting is still there. Take “Cymbal Rush,” which works in a number of versions played by Thom both with or without Radiohead but played by AFP becomes an all-out hypnotic set-ending stomper.
The positive mood was punctured just a little, when at the start of the second encore, Thom had to admonish a typical talking jackass in the audience during a rare, quiet acoustic performance of “The Present Tense,” one of those potential future Radiohead tunes that’s kicked around live for a few years but has not seen a studio recording yet. The mood swung back to gratitude and respect with a set closing solo piano first ever live performance of “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” Thom’s 1998 UNKLE collabo.
Now that we’ve seen the Amok songs work well live in a small space, it should be a welcome challenge for them to scale up to fill the Hollywood Bowl, taking full advantage of the sonics of that vast space. Something tells me these guys are up to the task.
Default / Unless / The Eraser / The Clock / Black Swan / Ingenue / Dropped / Skip Divided / Atoms for Peace / Stuck Together Pieces / Reverse Running / Harrowdown Hill / Amok / Cymbal Rush // Before Your Very Eyes / Paperbag Writer / The Hollow Earth / Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses // The Present Tense / Rabbit in Your Headlights