For all the placidity to the music of Radiohead and Atoms for Peace, their fans sure are vicious. Between violent pushing/shouting matches laying claim to space and one turning around to tell me and a friend “I’m literally going to kill one of you” for briefly chatting near the front of the set, there is a deep sense of ownership to this music. When I walked by Le Poisson Rouge at around 8:00 p.m., the line out front already stretched around the corner. Doors were not until 10 o’clock and the set from Thom Yorke and “sixth Radiohead member” Nigel Godrich, was to begin at 1:00 a.m. This is the kind of fanaticism they inspire.
It also speaks to the supply and demand of arena-level rock stars in club-size venues. Because, more than anything, this was a celebrity set. People cheered — a lot — when Yorke pulled his hair back, or when Godrich took off his sweatshirt. This was a victory lap for the recently released Atoms for Peace album Amok, a collection of flanged break beats and cooed vocals. In this DJ setting, songs from that album and Yorke’s Eraser largely came off as rote. Yorke and Godrich and a third party spun the songs for a couple of hours, beatmatching their own tracks to one another and twisting knobs and bobbing heads, while fans flipped out to recognize the opening strains of the tracks and then staidly observe Yorke deliver the vocals.
Yorke and Raidohead are responsible for popular music’s transition out of rock in a lot of ways. But that doesn’t give the frontman license to push subpar litedub platitudes on us like an ordained culture dealer. At points he admittedly couldn’t remember the words to his own songs that are stuffed full of idioms, and during “Amok” he dropped the ball repeatedly on the opening line, “a penny for your thoughts my love,” which is staggering. “Amok” is packed with these everyday phrases and Yorke owes these ravenous fans more than letting them slip. He is a human. But he is a human playing only three of these club-DJ shows and the expectations leveled against him when all he’s doing is singing into a cathedral reverb microphone should be met, easily.
There’s still something mesmerizing about Yorke’s performing, namely when he’s actually wearing a guitar or bass. It’s just a shame the songs performed here aren’t more interesting. As opposed to Holly Herndon, the preceding performer, who delivered fascinating manipulated vocals into minimal techno that without question inspired more movement in the crowd than the Atoms set. The visceral connection to the pulsing climaxes of Herndon’s songs was fascinating to watch because people booed during Herndon’s performance. “This sounds like an art installation,” said one listener disparagingly. Which is odd, because Herndon’s songs sounded a lot like the ones Yorke and Godrich would perform immediately after her. But that’s what cult-leader status buys you: unflagging acceptance of whatever diluted work gets pushed out.
Photography by Dale W. Eisinger
Black Swan (Thom Yorke song)
Stuck Together Pieces
The Eraser (Thom Yorke song)
Before Your Very Eyes…
Atoms for Peace (Thom Yorke song)
Harrowdown Hill (Thom Yorke song)