"This is the rehearsal, right?" Thom Yorke teased the audience last night inside Club Fais Do Do, renamed for the evening "Club Amok" for a surprise/secret Atoms For Peace performance. "You were the lucky ones who got tickets."
Amok is the title of the new Atoms For Peace album, released in February, and many inside the club got their tickets free from local record shops after buying the record.
I was one of the lucky ones who got in. And man, if this was only a rehearsal, those of you who catch them on their forthcoming world tour which kicks off in Paris on July 6 are fortunate souls indeed.
The performance swayed between trance-y, ethereal, hypnotic grooves and taut, muscular jams; afrobeat-inspired droning rhythm meets electroglitch meets merciless funk. An epiphany I had halfway through the set: "Flea" is an anagram for "Fela."
The show location was secret until late Friday afternoon, and was then revealed to be the 80something-year-old West Adams district building where jazz greats like John Coltrane once played in the 1960s.
The building's brick walls were covered in "Club Amok" flyers, featuring Stanley Donwood's artwork.
Radiohead's Thom Yorke is Atoms for Peace's frontman, and played guitar and piano; the band features Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on bass, Radiohead superproducer Nigel Godrich on keyboards, Joey Waronker on drums (Elliott Smith, Beck, REM), and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco (who often tours with RHCP) rocking a bunch of awesome instruments I can't identify (well, one was an electric berimbau).
It may be full of stars, but don't call Atoms For Peace a "supergroup"—or Yorke might "knock your fucking teeth out."
Writing about music is hard and it's a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at the beach in Los Angeles, so I'll link to music critics' work instead: LA Weekly, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times all had reviewers and photogs at the surprise gig last night. Here's a set list, at LA Weekly.
The final encore included one of my favorite Yorke compositions, "Rabbit in Your Headlights," from the late-1990s UNKLE compilation.
Ever seen the Jonathan Glazer video? And you know how certain songs become anthems for certain moments in your life, and take on new meaning? The track was on my "chemo" playlist during infusions, and I remember lying back in the La-Z-Boy from hell, nodding out on the spoken-word interlude.
Thom Yorke, Atoms for Peace, June 14, 2013 in LA. Photo: Timothy Norris, LA Weekly
During the second encore, Yorke soloed an acoustic version of "The Present Tense."
Some (some assholes) in the crowd continued to talk among themselves. Yorke stopped playing.
"Who the fuck is talking?," he demanded to know. "Did you come here just to show up? You can fucking talk when I'm done."
They shut up, and he continued, and it was beautiful.
I agree with Rolling Stone's Steve Appleford: "It was a reasonable question on a night of concentrated beats and passion delivered gratis from a team of sound scientists who were there to be heard and don't know how to make background music."
Among the attendees who were there to listen: Yorke's sometimes-collaborator Flying Lotus, DJ/multi-instrumentalist Madlib, and The Gaslamp Killer, who performed a smoking turntable set after Atoms for Peace. If you ever have an opportunity to see him live, do it.
There's lots of candid short video on the Atoms for Peace YouTube channel. Nigel Godrich's Vine account is cool to follow, too.
Don't miss Godrich and Yorke's recent set on LA radio station KCRW, during which they debuted new material.
tl;dr: Buy the record, see the tour.
Photo: Xeni Jardin