Thom Yorke Debuts All-Star Band at Secret Show

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Thom Yorke and Flea / Photo by Kevin Bronson
WRITTEN BY
Kevin Bronson

In baseball terms, attending Thom Yorke's "rehearsal" show on Friday night at the Echoplex in Los Angeles was like showing up at the stadium early to watch a slugger hit home runs in batting practice.

If only the Radiohead frontman can hit one out of the park Sunday and Monday when his newly formed all-star quintet -- including Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco -- performs at the Orpheum Theatre.

Echoplex is decidedly a club, and Yorke played it like a club show, feeding off the energy of the crowd of about 600, sweating through two shirts and putting on an admirable display of stage aerobics.

The 90-minute set was the opposite of cerebral, unless you count the sight of Flea playing a melodica. His manic slap-bass and the furious percussion of Waronker and Refosco, especially, gave the music from Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser, a surprising and almost pubescent physicality. For his part, Yorke spent much of the evening smiling as if he were surprised anybody would show up to see him play.

Plenty did. Tickets sold out in minutes after they went on sale online Friday noon -- the likes of Spike Jonze, Kim Gordon, Danger Mouse, Rick Rubin, Rosanna Arquette, Ellen Page, Justin Long, Alia Shawkat, and members of Bauhaus, Autolux, and Boom Bip made the scene too.

They watched Yorke rip through the first four songs from The Eraser before smiling and giving the crowd a thumbs-up. He shimmied, boogied, and clowned around with the microphone, making his way through the rest of the album, pausing only to introduce the band (and when has he had to do that lately?)

With the steam still rising from playing The Eraser's nine tracks, Yorke sent the band off "for a shower" and settled down at the piano to try a little tenderness -- and his new material. "If you're going to have a chat, go the fuck outside, will you?" he said good-naturedly.

His three-song solo bit gave the performance the breather it needed, and went off with a barely a wince from the maestro.

"Open the Flood Gates" is an aching piano ballad with the lyric "No pain and no suffering / and no one gets hurt / We absolve you / We absolve you." He strapped on a guitar for "Lotus Flower," a song he said he "might do with the band," meaning his day band. And as he went back to the piano for "Skirting on the Surface," fans at the rail closed their eyes, the sonic spectacle far exceeding the visual.

The other musicians returned for the bouncy "Paperbag Writer" and the sharp-edged "Judge Jury & Executioner," which Yorke described as "brand brand brand brand brand brand brand brand brand new." Like the songs that ended the show -- the A and B sides of his new vinyl release, "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses" and "Hollow Earth" -- the fabric seemed to be almost tribal rhythms executed both electronically and organically. The finale featured percussion played on a "tree" of miniature snares, among other odds and sods.

It might have only been a "rehearsal" for bigger gigs to come, but it was still great to see Yorke put on a memorable show..

Setlist

  1. The Eraser
  2. Analyse
  3. The Clock
  4. Black Swan
  5. Skip Divided
  6. Atoms for Peace
  7. And It Rained All Night
  8. Harrowdown Hill
  9. Cymbal Rush
  10. Open the Floodgates
  11. Lotus Flower
  12. Skirting on the Surfac
  13. Roxanne
  14. Paperbag Writer
  15. Judge Jury & Executioner
  16. Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses
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