Monday, April 12, 2010

Atoms For Peace @ Aragon Ballroom (4/10/2010)

My friend Brian proclaimed earlier this year that I owed him accompaniment to a Radiohead concert the next time they go on tour.  I gladly promised to oblige because (a) Brian is one of my favorite people and (b) he basically introduced me to Radiohead.  When Thom Yorke announced his solo tour for this spring (under the band name Atoms for Peace, which includes RHCP bassist Flea and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich), Brian and I eagerly made plans to attend one of the shows in Chicago (we missed out on the WASTE pre-sale, but were able to score 2 each in the regular sale), but he made it abundantly clear that this did not absolve me of my duty to see Radiohead with him (since this is only 1/5 of that band).

Fast-forward to the day of the show...  Ticketing for the event was completely paperless - a novel idea that ended up being well executed.  When Brian and I showed up around 7:10 to grab a bite beforehand we noticed that the line to get in was really long (it snaked all the way behind the building), so we started freaking out.  We had planned to each grab our pair of tickets and then wait for our guests (Adam and Lisa), who planned on showing up around 7:30.  I got in line while he went to the pizza place to grab a couple of slices.  By the time he returned with the pizza, we realized that the line was moving really quickly.  We also found out that because it was completely paperless we had to enter as soon as we got to the front of the line.  So we ended up getting out of and back into line a few times before Adam and Lisa showed up.  Adam arrived first (with Drew and Tony), so I went in with them while Brian waited for Lisa.  The procedure to get in was pretty smooth - once you got to the front you were patted down (though not very thoroughly) then you handed your credit card (that you used to purchase the tickets) to an attendant who swiped it and confirmed the number of people who could enter for your purchase.  Once I went through I understood why the line moved so quickly.

As for the musical aspects of the show...  I had never heard of the opener - Flying Lotus - a dance/electronica/hip-hop DJ.  He did sample a couple of tunes that I recognized - "Machine Gun" by Portishead, and "Reckoner" by Radiohead.  I probably would have appreciated his music more if I was in a more relaxed setting, and not standing around waiting for Thom Yorke.  Also, as with many electronic artists, there wasn't much to the performance aspect of his show.

The first part of Atoms For Peace's set was an in-order performance of Thom's solo Eraser album (I had suspected that this would be the case, based on setlists from a couple of shows from last year, but I had not kept up with the earlier shows on this tour).  "Eraser" was a solid start to the show, but the timing on "Analyse" seemed a little off at the beginning; thankfully, it was all sorted out by the second half of the song.  Unfortunately, "The Clock", which is my favorite song on the album, was pretty disappointing live - the heavy electronic beat did not translate well to a live rendition.  "Black Swan" was solid, "Skip Divided" did not impress (though I often skip it while listening to the album anyway), and "Atoms For Peace" (my second favorite) was pretty good.  Surprisingly, the last three songs of the main set were probably the best of the nine.  "And It Rained All Night" might have been my favorite song of the night and their performance of "Cymbal Rush" turned one of my least favorite album songs into a winner.

The encore started with Thom doing three solo songs (one brand new - "A Walk Down the Staircase") on guitar and piano, including Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" (which caused the crowd to go nuts).  I was amused when the crowd tried to clap along to a beat that is normally provided by a bass drum during the full band rendition of EIIRP, but failed miserably (I assumed this was because white people generally don't have rhythm, but to be fair I think I would have had difficulty finding that beat myself).  The rest of the band returned for four more songs, including excellent renditions of "Paperbag Writer" (a Radiohead B-side) and "The Hollow Earth".  Unfortunately, they ended on a down note (in my opinion) with an unnecessary jam at the end of "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses" - that's the first time I can recall seeing Thom do something like that.

All in all, it was a pretty great show.  I thought that a few songs didn't translate that well live, but I was surprised by a couple that came out even better than in the studio.  Brian thoroughly enjoyed the main set, but lost a bit of interest during the encore since he only recognized one of the songs.  In the end, it's obviously clear that (despite a couple of covers) this was a Thom Yorke show, and not a Radiohead show.  So I still owe Brian that Radiohead show.  There's an outside chance that I'll get a chance to pay that debt later this year, if not next year.  I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Here are a couple of videos that I shot with my cell phone.  The first one is "Atoms For Peace".  Unfortunately, the audio is not that great on this one.

The audio for the second one, "The Hollow Earth" is better.  Unfortunately, I only got the last two-thirds of the song.