Atoms for Peace
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013
Treasure Island Music Festival
Every festival needs a "slam dunk" act, and for Saturday at Treasure Island, Atoms for Peace served that purpose. The combination was irresistible. Thom Yorke, Flea, and their never-fail roll call of producers, percussionists, and all-around gifted musicians who fill the ranks of the alt-jam-band outfit (dare I say "supergroup") were ready to take stoned concertgoers, weary from a day of congested pop appreciation, to cloud nine.
Treasure Island tickets were sold out early on Saturday, which is worth noting in and of itself. The field was as full of bodies by 3 p.m. as it was for the previous year's headliners.The crowd was culturally savvy, musically educated, and well-stocked for a night of hedonism and dancing to everything from Diplo party-lite bangers to the restrained, soulful electronica of Little Dragon or Disclosure. So it's no small wonder that such an eager, seasoned crowd was prepared to lose themselves in the trancelike sound barrage of Atom's for Peace's new album, Amok. To be straight: there were no hints at the people-pleasing pop rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and none of the heart-rending, obscure emotionalism of Radiohead. But if you were ready to throb, convulse, and hypnotize yourself to the beat of a skilled team of musical savants, there was plenty of time to do that.
Yorke and company slipped in nods to the songwriter's most famous work, and their value as a re-interpretive act is strong. They included numbers from Yorke's breakout solo venture The Eraser -- their version of "The Clock," though it's a staple for the AFP set, sounded like a new twist on the old song -- and other numbers from the already seven-year-old album played beautifully. But if you weren't familiar with Amok, the spectacle was more about the personalities onstage than the strength of each individual song.
Flea is an absolutely unparalleled performer. His love for the bass guitar is like no other love that exists in the world. His vigor and stage presence is a sight to behold. Thom Yorke, despite shrugging off all the accumulated credibility of Radiohead's catalog, still has an unshackled stage dance that infects his fans with glee. Watching Yorke unravel remains one of the single most fascinating and inspiring experiences to behold in a live music setting.
And taken as a whole, Atoms For Peace is certainly a slam dunk. But even with the songs from Amok ringing in my ears, I never felt the deep personal reverberations that come from a brazen, haranguing rock song, a neurotic, poignant ode, or a brooding lullaby -- all styles of which I know, for a fact, these artists are capable. The headiness, the drunken haze of sound that sets in when Atoms for Peace takes control, is undeniable, but it's still unclear to me whether it's coming from the power of the band itself, or each of these talented musicians' legacy.