Back in the early seventies rock stars bored with their bands would hang out with other rock stars from other bands and casually, over whatever drug cocktail they happened to be ingesting at the time, would suggest ‘they do something together’
The result was the supergroup.
With the advent of punk a few short years later, this much-maligned musical trend became a symbol of everything that was wrong with bloated stadium rock and self-indulgent musicians. Probably this was because none of the punks could actually play their instruments very well and resented anyone else who could, but that’s another story.
Nevertheless the prejudice against the supergroup has remained so that whenever a rock star announces a new side project with one of his famous mates a mass rolling of eyes takes place throughout the musical world.
Atoms for Peace is the latest Thom Yorke project featuring Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joel Waronker of Beck and REM and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco of Forro in the Dark. If ever there were a band that deserved the title supergroup this would be it.
I toddled along to see them at the Barclay Center last night fully expecting to be underwhelmed by them or even slightly annoyed. No one likes to see the already rich and successful enjoying themselves. They should be out donating money to homeless charities and generally doing their best to make us feel our lives are actually ok. But Atoms for Peace can’t help themselves. Yorke and Flea (should a man over forty still be calling himself Flea?) jig around in front of the stage with gleeful abandon. While behind them Waronker and Refosco drive the beat, in an exemplary fashion. So much so in fact that several white people in the audience began dancing.
Many did so with a fair degree of self-consciousness it’s true but it’s still impressive that a basically aging indie rock crowd should feel the need to get down.
The truth is that in all honesty Atoms for Peace do not have much in the way of tunes but they have plenty in the way of beats. It’s along time since I’ve seen such a supple rhythm section and such an amazing amount of syncopation in what is still essentially, a rock band with a bit of electronica thrown in.
More importantly as well as being pretty enjoyable to see live, the music felt progressive in the best possible sense in that it’s made by people looking to do something new that is still accessible to the listener.
At times I did feel I was watching a protracted jam session but more often than not the musicianship drew me back in rather than alienated me.
If Radiohead is played out, Thom Yorke could do worse than making this is new band.