ACL Live Shot: Atoms for Peace

Thom Yorke and Flea put on a spirit possession

By Austin Powell, 11:57AM, Mon. Oct. 7, 2013

Splitting the atom: Yorke (left) and Flea, 10.6.13
Splitting the atom: Yorke (left) and Flea, 10.6.13
photo by Shelley Hiam

Atoms for Peace generates 21st century trance music for the Kid A generation, a soundtrack to a life coded in zeroes and ones.

The band – Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, and producer Nigel Godrich – doesn’t write songs. They create mazes, sinewy tracks with no clear ending or beginning, the kind that mess with your depth perception, especially in a live setting.

Those hoping to hear Radiohead covers had to settle for “Paperbag Writer,” a Hail to the Thief B-side with cold, exhaling synths. The rest of the 100-minute set with two encores pulled evenly from Yorke’s 2006 stunner The Eraser and the group’s proper debut, this year’s Amok. Even when Yorke started alone at piano, as in his revision of 1998 Unkle collaboration “Rabbit in Your Headlights” or “Ingenue,” there were no ballads, just scribbled sentiments and inhabitable worlds of disembodied melody and echo.

For his part, Flea prowled the stage as if performing a spirit-possession ceremony on himself – hunched, head-banging, stepping over imaginary trip wires, arms at times outstretched – with a primal urgency more theatrical than Broadway’s Fela! In “Skip Divided,” his melodica served as a literal snake charmer to Yorke, awakening something inside him, while their wicked three-part interplay with Godrich on standout “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” locked in tighter than Tor encryption.

Initial closer “Cymbal Rush” captured Atoms for Peace’s process in real-time: It started with hyper-kinetic rhythms thickened by Flea’s pulsing bass, to which Yorke added stabs of piano to match Godrich’s post-rock guitar, all leading to a dance break that found Yorke raving like a wind-up doll cranked too far.

Set list

“Before Your Very Eyes...”


“The Clock”


“Stuck Together Pieces”


“And It Rained All Night”

“Harrowdown Hill”


Encore 1

“Skip Divided”

“Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses”

“Rabbit in Your Headlights”

"Paperbag Writer”


Encore 2

“Atoms for Peace”

“Black Swan”

For more ACL Fest coverage, see austinchronicle.com/acl. For photo galleries from the fest, see austinchronicle.com/photos.
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