Live: Radiohead’s Thom Yorke @ The Orpheum, 10.04.09

All photos by David Greenwald

A few weeks ago, I took a walk through West Hollywood late one night, needing to clear my head. I listened to Thom Yorke’s The Eraser — the Radiohead frontman’s all-but-forgotten 2006 debut. I’d loved it at the time, but a few years later, many of the songs seemed more penciled in than inscribed in ink, slight, brittle tracks lacking the widescreen grandeur of Yorke’s day job.

That was before he played them live. In the second of three shows in Los Angeles — his first-ever solo gigs in the city and, as far as I know, his first-ever with a band other than Radiohead — and first stop at the Orpheum, Yorke unleashed an all-star quintet on his Eraser material and beyond. On bass, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea; on drums, Beck usual suspect Joey Waronker; on percussion, David Byrne collaborator Mauro Refosco; on everything else, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Serious dudes, all. What were once slim electronic beats were transformed and transmogrified into thundering, organic grooves; at times, Nigel joined the drummers with further percussion and at others, he picked up a bass — as on closing track “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses” — to compete with the inexhaustible Flea on the low end. I hope to God somebody recorded this show.

For Thom’s part, he seemed pleased as punch to be playing with these musicians and showing off his wares for an unbelievably adoring crowd. I’ve never seen anyone applaud so much for anything since Obama was elected, and he didn’t have an encore break. As good as the music was, the real highlight was watching one of the most important rock musicians on Earth shimmy and bare his midriff like a teenage Lady Gaga. Yorke dances with the shamelessness only possible to the absolutely fearless; in other words, don’t try his moves at your next Bar Mitzvah. Matching him in the motion department was Flea, an absolute dynamo down on the floor as the three others stood raised behind them.

If the full band’s setlist was dance music, as Yorke described it while urging the crowd to stand up and join him in getting down, his solo break in the show’s middle was more familiar to Radiohead fans. After thumping through The Eraser material, he played three new songs, one a possible Radiohead jam — the promising “Man on a Stick,” which was dubbed “Lotus Flower” at the Echoplex on Friday; the calming “Open the Floodgates”; and “Supercollider,” a song with judicious, fearless falsetto use. The band took the stage again to close with another four songs, including two from the singer’s new single (out tomorrow) — of those, “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses” was the finest, closing with a bass assault from Flea and Godrich that threatened to break new ground for low ends.

It was, in other words, a stunning show and a long-awaited display of what The Eraser (and Yorke’s often indulgent electronic leanings) was really meant to be. Rumor has it he’s in L.A. working on another solo record as well as churning out fresh Radiohead; after tonight, it’s hard to imagine that album being so easy to erase.

(BTW, celeb sightings: Tobey Maguire (!), Zombieland‘s Jessie Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, Sandra Oh and Danny Masterson.)

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