Atoms for Peace

30 September 2013

by Thomas Britt

16 October 2013

All photos by
Thomas Britt 

Amok, the first studio album from Atoms for Peace, was released in February. Though the album received mostly good reviews and debuted in the #2 position on the US Billboard 200, the songs didn’t quite possess the type of energy that had been on display during the band’s 2009-2010 live dates.

Originally arranged as a band for Thom Yorke’s performances of solo laptop album The Eraser (2006), the group created Amok in jam sessions that Yorke and band member/producer Nigel Godrich subsequently spent years editing. The effect of their tinkering was to constrain a very talented group of musicians (including Flea, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco) within a computer—an ironic development considering that the group was initially recruited to bring The Eraser out of its digital shell.
The current tour is like a coda, finally fulfilling the promise of those early shows and revealing new strengths in the process. The 30 September performance at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia, featured a perfectly structured setlist that combined Atoms for Peace material with Yorke’s solo album, as well as songs from Radiohead and 1998 UNKLE throwback “Rabbit in Your Headlights”.

Whereas Amok offered most of the Atoms for Peace numbers in choppy, insular forms, those same album tracks seemed sonically bottomless when translated to an arena and in the context of these other songs. And the band (particularly its inventive rhythm section) took advantage of every opportunity to inject life back into the music.

Yorke displayed the happy, loose demeanor that has defined the past few years of his career—a thorough transformation from his late ‘90s persona (immortalized in Meeting People Is Easy). There’s no doubt he’s having fun reinventing himself, and much of that has to do with his participation in this band. And while the Amok songs were revelatory in this live context, it was Yorke’s Eraser that made the strongest emotional impact.

“Cymbal Rush” brought the initial set to a thrilling close before the band took to the stage for two encores. When combined, the encores ran nearly as long as the preceding set and featured the best material of the night: Title tracks from The Eraser and Amok, Radiohead b-side “Paperbag Writer”, “Atoms for Peace”, and “Black Swan”. The highlight of the evening was “Rabbit in Your Headlights” which, as a result of this tou,r now claims a spot among the most affecting songs in Yorke’s live repertoire.

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