The obscurely menacing lyrics which are Thom Yorke’s stock in trade are reflected on the deflated gas-holders in this more obscure, east London Oval.
Black-and-white graphics fill the entrance to the post-industrial space he has chosen to launch Amok, the debut album by his new band Atoms for Peace.
With only Yorke and one bandmate, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, to hand from a quintet which also includes Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, this is a low-key, late-night happening, not a regular gig. Watching the duo DJ Yorke’s songs, with him adding live vocals and guitar, his happiness is clear.
Radiohead make so little effort these days to reach out to the mass public their status as a major band requires, a future as an electronica auteur and DJ is a fantasy which would fit their singer. Just as guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s most effective recent work has been his soundtracks for Paul Thomas Anderson, Yorke is experimenting with a world where “Creep” never happened.
With an ill-advised top-knot that’s anyway hard to see for most of the packed crowd, Yorke straps on a guitar for “Black Swan”, from his solo album The Eraser, which the band now called Atoms for Peace formed to play live. There was a friendly relaxation to those gigs Yorke rarely musters with Radiohead.
The more forbidding, club-friendly rhythmic stiffness and volume possible tonight can’t manage it, either. Hammering wood-block beats building in distorting waves underpin “Black Swan” instead. Initially low-fi visuals blaze into images of smashed stained glass on “Stuck Together Pieces”. Yorke veers between gravel-voiced lamentations and his trademark croon, but mostly loops his voice low in the mix. Common phrases Yorke likes to make obscurely ominous (“Fools rushing in”, “I’ve made my bed and I’ll lie in it”) pierce long passages of instrumental electronica where he and Godrich gauchely bounce their heads at their laptops.
The set’s time and space (they finish at 2.20am) means the man next to me, reaching vaguely for visions only he sees, is unusually loved-up for Thom Yorke music. Yorke himself dances jerkily to “Reverse Running”’s broken, biscuit-tin beats. But it’s only with the final “Default”, slow-motion grand like a John Barry-scored space-walk, that the music becomes both epically melancholy and explosively effective. As an experiment in how to launch an album, it’s been a qualified success.