Concert Review: Atoms for Peace @ Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York (with full setlist)
Today, the other cofounder of PeteHatesMusic – Rich – is getting married. In Ottawa. Last night, I was with a near sold out crowd at the still newish Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, doing my best to not stress about the impending flight to Toronto plus four hour drive to Ottawa combination looming Saturday morning. Why would any sane person do such a thing? Three words: Atoms For Peace.
What started as a Thom Yorke solo project has evolved into a formidable live act through the recruitment of bassist Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Ultraista member Joey Waronker, and percussionist Mauro Rafensco. The “don’t call us a supergroup” supergroup hit up Brooklyn as part of their tour for their Amok album, the first album the group has recorded together (or as together as Thom and Nigel will let you get).
Having seen Radiohead live about a dozen times (and being mildly obsessed with them, according to my therapist), plus witnessing the rock of the Chili Peppers several times, I was excited to see what the live performance of Amok and Thom’s solo effect The Eraser would yield.
After I went broke at the merch table, the show started at 915, with a loop of Thom’s vocals. The band then broke out into the lead track of Amok, Before Your Very Eyes…. This might be stating the obvious, but the track (and most of the tracks throughout the night) had more of a ‘proper rock band’ feel to them, which is exactly what Thom Yorke set out to do. The bass really stood out in this (and pretty much all) songs. I hate to do comparisons to Radiohead but I must say that Flea is much more animated than Colin Greenwood on stage. The track was a bit slower than the album version, but it really picked up in the second half, with the percussion driving the rhythm to the end.
The band was backed by a screen with no video but had some lights, plus side stage lights doing their thing. They then launched into a fast and dirty version of Default. Flea continued to do his “robber crawling through the house” method of playing and rocking out. Two percussionists killed it in the chorus, and transformed the beat to something almost resembling a jungle beat. The already great song hit new heights in a live setting.
It was amazing to see Thom and Flea up front, rocking out and playing music together – total magic. The other 3 lads sat at the back and were sort of out of sight but not out of mind. Thom is still rocking a pony tail, and wore a black attire, while Flea had some long shorts.
The Thom Yorke solo track The Clock was next, and it was noticably heavier. I didn’t even recognize it at the beginning – it was viciously fast. I like the studio version but love the live version.
For the next track, Thom went over to the piano, sung a melody and it began looping. This lead to Ingenue, which had a nice, classic piano sound, making it sound more like a ballad. I’m going to say this a lot but it sounded entirely different. For a Radiohead show, I can name the next song simply by the one note they play during the instrument changeover. It took me nearly a minute to name most songs tonight (and I wasn’t totally hammered). I find the studio version sort of Ingenue drags on unnecessarily, but not so live.
Hey, it took me less than a minute to figure out the song, and it was Stuck Together Pieces. Naming the song as fast as possible would be a great drinking game (and it was).
More vocal looping provided a haunting intro for Unless, with a dark and mysterious beat backing Thom’s vocals. The band made use of the coloured bars and the backing lights to provide some Stanley Donwood-esque art. Flea danced about and played in unique positions and Thom tried mimicking him, which was funny to see.
And It Rained All Night had its catchy bass line emphasized by Flea, and the percussion also livened up their parts.
Next was the highlight of the night for me – Harrowdown Hill. It featured more thumping bass and a dancing Thom Yorke (which is something he very much enjoys). It was very fast, and had a nice crash when the beat switches up. The performance of the song had the crowd clapping along, too.
Dropped followed, and was relentless on the drums, with fills and a solid tempo leading the way. Thom headed back to the piano, after riling up the crowd between songs, for Cymbal Rush. Although the studio version has some tempo change, the second half of the song really came to live with the added guitar line, and the ever-present percussion. This was the last song of a 55 minute set.
After a short break, Thom came out and said “Hi, I’m Justin Bieber and this is Justin Bieber”, pointing to Flea. In Justin Bieber’s dreams. Skip Divided started off the encore, and featured a melodica intro by Flea and a beat that also prevented me from knowing the song initially.
One of the tracks from a double A side, Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses, was next, with its standout bass part. The guitar line gave it some pleasant rounding out, and was well performed during the intricate ending.
Thom went to the piano to play the UNKLE track he guest starred on – Rabbit in Your Headlights. It was a nice surprise to those who haven’t been reading the set lists. There was even a spoken word interlude by Flea in the song.
Another pleasant surprise to those who didn’t look at the set list – the Radiohead B-side Paperbag Writer made an appearance. Thom danced around while Flea took giant steps and slid to the synth sounds.
The last song of the encore was the title track off of the new album, Amok. It had a great musical intro, with many moving parts pulled off in unison. The encore ended, and a lot of people headed for the exits. Solely because of my loud clapping up in the 200s, the band decided to do one more encore.
Not a lot of bands are named after one of their songs, but Atoms for Peace played the track Atoms for Peace. This happens to be my least favourite track off of The Eraser. It sounded fairly similar to the album, with a few cool synth lines backing things and more noticeable percussion adding to the proceedings.
“Thanks to everyone for coming out on a Friday night. I’ll see you back at your place for a cup of tea.” So Thom did get my hundreds of letters, and the retraining order was just a horrible nightmare. The band finished things up with Black Swan.
I love the albums The Eraser and Amok. But I don’t know if I can listen to them again after watching the band reimagine and, for the most part, improve the tracks over the course of an hour and a forty minutes. The powerful bass lines, the all-around talent that is Thom Yorke, and the violent percussion parts all made for an excellent Friday night.
PHM Rating for Atoms for Peace: 9.0 out of 10
Setlist for Atoms for Peace @ Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York, USA – September 27, 2013
1 – Before Your Very Eyes…
2 – Default
3 – The Clock
4 – Ingenue
5 – Stuck Together Pieces
6 – Unless
7 – And It Rained All Night
8 – Harrowdown Hill
9 – Dropped
10 – Cymbal Rush
11 – Skip Divided
12 – Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses
13 – Rabbit in Your Headlights
14 – Paperbag Writer
15 – Amok
16 – Atoms for Peace
17 – Black Swan