There are certain types of news so mind-blowing that you remember every detail about the moment you got word. I was dragging myself through a paper last week when a text hit my phone, informing me that singer Thom Yorke’s new band would feature none other than Flea.
Tickets for the band’s two shows at the downtown Orpheum Theatre sold out within minutes. Monday night, concertgoers knew just how lucky they were.
As anyone who viciously stalks set lists online could have guessed, the band began by playing The Eraser, Yorke’s 2006 solo album, in its entirety. Yorke sat at his piano and played the distinctive chords that jumpstart the record’s title track. The crowd erupted with cheers of excitement and then gradually grew silent, turning into attentive, respectful listeners.
“The Eraser,” which is a dissonant, jarring and electronic song in its recorded form, proved to sound full, layered and ambient with live instrumentation. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich worked keyboards and effects while former R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco offered more than a drum kit ever could. When Yorke stood up and grabbed a guitar, he and Flea teamed up to jam out a fast, funky storm of rock.
Yorke had always said The Eraser was intended to be a dance album, and Flea’s groovy adaption of its baselines certainly solidified his point. The former Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist even put down his primary instrument to play the melodica on “Skip Divided,” turning the track into a Middle Eastern groove that perfectly echoed and improved upon the album version.
Flea picked his bass up again to slap it for a high-intensity version of “Harrowdown Hill” that sent both Yorke and himself into a fit of dancing, shaking their hips and reinventing the moonwalk. The audience remained in a trance, eyes glued to the stage and thoughts who-knows-where. Yorke crooned lyrics that described the audience’s experience perfectly: “I feel me slipping in and out of consciousness.”
When the album was complete, Yorke returned to the stage alone to play three new songs. No one talked — it was like an unspoken rule, an understood fact that Yorke’s genius must be respected. He began with “Lotus Flower” on guitar, a beautiful song that Yorke supposedly has been working on with his band — what is it called again? Radio-something?
Next, Yorke returned to his piano to play “Skirting on the Surface” and “Open the Floodgates,” two more ballads that will be sure to get any listener through a rainy day.
For the first half of the show, all the attendees appeared to be in some state of shock. This was understandable, as they had only been allotted one week to prepare for the show of a lifetime. Furthermore, each at least somewhat expected to leave the show wishing the Orpheum had housed the “actual” Radiohead instead of merely its frontman and his musician friends.
While a notion like this was inevitable, Yorke and his musician friends ended the night with crazy jam sessions and compelling new songs, turning doubters into dancers. It was a different sound than Yorke’s album or even his recent releases, “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses“ and “A Hollow World,” would have suggested, exemplified by the band’s obscure choice of Radiohead track — haunting B-side “Paperbag Writer.”
Flea’s performance skills helped him embrace the eerie electronic tracks — he danced across the stage, hypnotizing himself and the crowd. Yorke followed Flea’s example, and the two of them went wild, fueled by groove and ambiance, neon lights flashing behind them.
“We’ve had a lot of fun doing this,” Yorke said to the crowd as the show came to a close. “So we’re going to do it again.”