As rare as it is to see Thom Yorke out on tour, it seems Santa Barbara is a stop he likes to make. I can only speculate why that is, but I’m sure glad he sees it a fit location to put on a show. Unlike Yorke’s two previous appearances onstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl with Radiohead (the first in 2001, then again in 2008), the singer wasn’t flanked by his fellow bandmates this past Saturday night.
Instead, Yorke brought along Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummers Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco, and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who together formed the supergroup folks are calling Atoms for Peace. Saturday’s extra-special gig was part of a small, two-week, eight-city tour for the band, who—lucky for us—chose our tiny town to rock out with on a beautiful Santa Barbara spring night.
And Atoms for Peace most definitely know how to rock. After Autolux warmed up the crowd as the sun began to set, Yorke and company got right into it, playing each of the nine songs from Yorke’s 2006 solo record, The Eraser, in their original order. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as surprising, especially considering the all-star group, but the band proved seamless in its effort to take the synthetic beats and electronics of The Eraser and turn them into, well, live music.
Things were fleshed out mostly by way of lots of percussion, but what surprised the most was the amount of groove the guys brought to the stage. Personally, listening to The Eraser never gave me much of an urge to dance, but Flea, sporting blue hair to go along with his red plaid shirt and neon green bass, could not keep his feet in the same place for more than a beat. Meanwhile, Yorke, who stayed at the piano for two of the night’s first three songs (“The Eraser” and “The Clock”), found his hips swaying shortly thereafter, even stripping off his cardigan in order to move about more freely. By the time the group hit “Harrowdown Hill,” the infectious beat of the bass and the earth-shaking percussion nearly forced the crowd to fall in line, and the Bowl was officially rockin’.
Yorke came back alone for the first part of the encore, playing a new Atoms for Peace song, “Give Up the Ghost,” on guitar and loop pedal before moving to the piano again for a deliberate, drawn out, and beautifully scaled-back version of “Videotape,” off Radiohead’s 2008 album, In Rainbows.
To the delight of most everyone in attendance, the band busted out one other Radiohead tune, “Everything in Its Right Place,” and sampled a few more new jams before the lights came on just before 10 p.m., leaving us all awestruck and anxious for Yorke’s next stop in S.B.