Thom Yorke’s Unlikely New Band Has Its Debut
LOS ANGELES — Thom Yorke’s new band is so new that it has no name. For its official debut on Sunday, the first of two nights at the Orpheum Theater here, the marquee outside identified the group simply with six question marks.
Barely a week ago Mr. Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, announced online that he had started a side project that included, intriguingly, Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Like everything in the Radiohead universe, it was done in an Internet rush: In the same statement, Mr. Yorke posted links for tickets to the Orpheum concerts, and a couple of days later made a last-minute addition of a "warm-up show" at a small club, each of which sold out faster than you can say "refresh browser."
(He was apparently moving faster than his own organization. When a press release was issued for the Orpheum, the morning after Mr. Yorke’s statement, it reassured fans: "Radiohead is not breaking up.")
If anything in pop music could be a true surprise, this new band would seem to be it. But after its warm-up show, at the Echoplex on Friday night, YouTube videos of almost every song — shot from almost every imaginable angle — quickly spread around the Internet, along with set lists, quick-take reviews and debates about song titles.
By Sunday night the fans knew exactly what to expect, and in the lobby before the show they discussed the agony of temptation: was it possible to resist looking at the spoilers? "I tried not to watch," said Aron Towner, a 30-year-old graphic designer from Phoenix. "When my friends were playing it, I left the room."
Mr. Yorke’s nearly 80-minute set on Sunday was almost exactly what it had been at the Echoplex: He played his 2006 solo album "The Eraser" (XL) in its entirety, followed by seven songs, most of them new. The songs on "The Eraser" were created by stitching together swatches of electronica, and as a result the album has an abstract, disembodied sound. But in performance the band brought out muscular, kinetic patterns, to which Mr. Yorke responded with peculiar but totally liberated dancing. On "The Clock," the drummer Joey Waronker (who has played with Beck) and the percussionist Mauro Refosco (a frequent David Byrne collaborator) locked in clattering counterpoint, while Flea kept a tense momentum in a three-note repeated bass line, his head rolling as he jerked his body backward and forward.
For "Skip Divided," the stuttering electronic bleeps of the album version became a sinister tribal rhythm, with a slowly crawling melodica theme played by Flea. Throughout the show Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s longtime producer, created rich, ominous soundscapes on guitar and keyboards.
The performances of Mr. Yorke’s newer songs, in two encores, suggested that he might be waffling between gentle balladry and further apocalyptic dance music. "Lotus Flower," which might also be called "Moon Upon a Stick" ("I don’t even know yet," he said), a hymn to emotional honesty ("listen to your heart"), was played solo with guitar, his falsetto filling up the theater like clear moonlight. For the more cynical "Open the Floodgates," he played mournful, bluesy chords at the piano, where he stayed for "Super Collider," a Radiohead rarity.
But for the second encore Mr. Yorke brought out the band, and once again he turned into the wild dancer, gasping for his vocals as he skipped frantically across the stage for the "The Hollow Earth," a new song whose twitchy, hurried beat gradually pulls the vocals from angelic peace to spasms.
To judge from the audience at the Orpheum, a 1920s movie palace downtown with a capacity of about 2,000, it didn’t much matter whether any of it was a surprise. Dotted with faces from youngish Hollywood — Anne Hathaway was a few seats down from Tobey Maguire, who wasn’t far from Edward Norton — the crowd for the most part swayed in reverent silence, keeping their roars for the breaks between songs. But they knew their cues, crying out in approval when Mr. Yorke sang the lines "No more talk about the old days/It’s time for something great" in "Atoms for Peace."
After the show, fans compared celebrity-spotting notes and sketched out their own reviews. "It was excellent," said Matt Lingo, a 21-year-student. "It was the most depressing dance music I’ve ever heard." But the reaction of his friend, Brent Koepp, also 21, suggested that the next stage of the hype cycle — backlash — may have already arrived, barely 15 minutes after the end of the show.Mr. Koepp had gotten lucky and scored tickets to both the Echoplex and Orpheum shows. The first one, he said, felt spontaneous and unpredictable. At the Orpheum, "the performance was tighter, but it was lacking that raw energy," he said. "This one was more of a professional show."