Better than: The “slappeh da bass” scene from I Love You Man.
“Hi, my name’s Justin Bieber,” Thom Yorke said in a high voice when he came back onstage for Atoms for Peace‘s first encore Friday night at the Barclays Center. While a quip like that was somewhat to be expected–the AFP mastermind was wearing a tank top, first of all, and he had already claimed to be Jay Z (and introduced Flea, who happened to be wearing a skirt this time, as Beyonce) a few days ago at their tour kick-off in Philadelphia–the rest of Atoms for Peace’s set, which seemed to rend the fabric of space and time along the reverberating rhythm section and the jagged, glowing Amok album art-like backdrop, was not.
Weird Al’s bassist, Steve Jay, once said he learned from West African musicians that the bass guitar–or any instrument, for that matter–should be treated as an entity with a spirit of its own rather than a tool that exists solely for humans’ use; so he wore his bass low, because he believed that the musician should have to struggle, to reach for the sound he was creating. The two most prominent members of Atoms for Peace ascribe to this rule, often seeming possessed by the music they make rather than trying to control it. For most of the show Flea was bent doubled over his bass, hopping on one foot and then the other like he was on a bed of hot coals. Before the skittering drums kicked in on ominously smoldering “Unless,” he removed himself to the side of the stage, where he could be seen pogo-ing around even more frantically until he could rejoin Yorke. During the thrumming bass line on “Dropped,” he even executed a couple of Robert Pollard-style high kicks.
The physical and sonic chemistry between the two men drove the show, to the point where the energy in the space palpably went down (even the lights went from red-hot to blue) during Thom Yorke’s repurposed solo material from 2006’s The Eraser and elsewhere. They’re both good, spastic dancers–Flea a bit more so, as the precariously high slit in his skirt crept ever higher–that seem to emit these Matrix-style force fields that move the other; it was actually touching when Yorke sat at the baby grand piano for “Ingenue” and Flea stood nearly motionless in the middle of the stage, as if cursed to wander the desert forever without his other half. That song was actually a bit disappointing, because a) Yorke didn’t bust out his fully synchronized dance routine and b) the song’s hallmark swooning, horn-y synth line was virtually absent until the end. And when Nigel Godrich‘s keyboards did finally come in, strikingly acute, they rippled uncomfortably through what was left of the song.
Indeed, one of the most striking things about Atoms for Peace’s set was simply how powerful each sound was. Amok, Atoms for Peace’s full-length debut from earlier this year, is certainly kinetic, but on the record Flea’s bass merely hums as an undercurrent underneath it all. In a live setting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist moves the air and everyone breathing it like another string on his instrument. Not to be outdone, the percussionists knocked out clattering rhythms and slithering hi-hats with military precision, and Thom Yorke’s voice was the fragile glue holding everything together.
After shaking his ponytail at the audience as a sign of respectful thanks at the end of the first encore, Yorke came back out for the second encore and strayed onto a dais in the photo pit for “Atoms for Peace.” Gesturing toward the ecstatic audience reaching toward him, he sang, “Take me in your arms.” After two encores and before a crowd already screaming for a third, he didn’t even need to ask.
Atoms for Peace set list on the next page.
Atoms for Peace Setlist
Before Your Very Eyes…
Stuck Together Pieces
And It Rained All Night
Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses
Rabbit in Your Headlights
Atoms for Peace