Atoms for Peace muscles up at intimate warm-up gig

“This is a rehearsal, right?” asked Thom Yorke not long into his show Friday night with Atoms for Peace, and that was one way of looking at it. Announced online Friday morning (with tickets available through radio stations, record stores and a raffle held by the Silverlake Conservatory of Music), the last-minute gig offered a chance for the band to show off some of the material it’s been honing privately here in L.A. before it launches a world tour on July 6 in Paris.

In a sense, though, aren’t all Atoms for Peace shows rehearsals? The putatively L.A.-based quintet – which teams Radiohead frontman Yorke with bassist Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers), drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and guitar – formed nearly four years ago in order to perform songs from Yorke’s 2006 solo record “The Eraser.” Then it used that experience onstage to build new tracks, which Yorke and Godrich obsessively rebuilt in the studio for “Amok,” the first Atoms for Peace record, released in February. Now the group is converting those meticulously assembled productions back into real-time music. It’s work always in progress.

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For Friday’s concert, held at a cozy hall on West Adams Boulevard sometimes known as Café Fais Do-Do, Atoms for Peace expanded its repertoire beyond “Amok” and “The Eraser.” The band also played Radiohead’s “Paperbag Writer,” Yorke’s “The Present Tense” and “Rabbit in Your Headlights,” the Unkle song that Yorke sang on that outfit’s 1998 “Psyence Fiction” album.

Whatever its provenance, the music felt funkier and harder-edged than on previous Atoms for Peace outings – the band last toured in 2010, including a performance at that year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival -- with more muscular guitar action and more intense rhythmic drive. The title track from “The Eraser” started out gently, Yorke tapping out piano chords, but bulked up quickly, with Waronker and Refosco bearing down on a juddering groove; “Harrowdown Hill” was furious enough that Yorke appeared to fall down at one point. And in “Skip Divided” Flea played melodica while banging his head in his signature fashion.

On a few occasions the gig reminded you that Atoms for Peace hasn’t completed its preparations for the trek that’s scheduled to stop at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 16 and the Santa Barbara Bowl on Oct. 17. The cord fell out of Yorke’s microphone during the song “Atoms for Peace,” for instance, and after “Stuck Together Pieces” the singer grimaced in a way that suggested he was dissatisfied with the shape of the song. (Then again, Yorke’s default expression is more or less a grimace, so perhaps he loved it.)

He also flashed some impatience with the audience when he heard someone talking during “The Present Tense,” a delicate acoustic ballad for which he accompanied himself on guitar. Yorke’s comments can’t be quoted here, but it was clear he’s been offstage for a bit, safely ensconced in the womb of the band’s rehearsal space.

Near the end of the show Yorke took another stab at defining what Atoms for Peace was up to Friday, finally deciding, “A warm-up, that’s what it is.” Then he added, in slightly saltier language, that he and his bandmates are still figuring all this stuff out.

They’re getting awfully close.


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