About halfway though his show Monday night at the Orpheum, his third and final concert in a run of Los Angeles appearances with this as yet unnamed all-star band (they were announced on the marquee by a series of question marks), Thom Yorke thanked the sold-out aud for staying on its feet. “This music is made for dancing,” the Radiohead frontman said, adding, with typical self-deprecating flourish, “at least, in my mind, anyway.”
And certainly, the music, performed by Yorke with an all-star band that consisted of Flea (taking a break from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) on bass, long-time Beck band member Joey Waronker on drums, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and guitar, and Forro in the Dark producer Mauro Refosco on percussion, had a propulsive energy. But instead of ecstatic release, Yorke and the band sound like they’re dancing on the edge of an abyss.
The first part of the 90-minute show presented the songs from “The Eraser” (XL Recordings), his 2006 solo album. But where that album had a ghostly, wintry chill, the live perf brought a muscular energy to the material. It certainly shares genetic code with Radiohead, but is less formal and filled in.
With Warnoker and Refosco locking into repeated, kinetic rhythms anchored by Flea’s lurching circular basslines, the beats turned tense and more urgent, as if girding themselves for an unseen, yet inevitable impact. It’s unsettled and spiky, and moves the music toward the stiffly aggressive funk of ’80s bands such as PiL’s “Metal Box” and Talking Head’s “Remain in Light” and “Speaking in Tongues.”
It shares much of the same interests as those bands: Flea’s forlorn melodica line, “Skip Divided” nods toward dub’s spaciness, while his descending bassline on “Cymbal Rush,” orients the song toward African township jive. Yorke’s repeated piano arpeggios on songs such as “The Eraser” and “Analyze” have their roots in Philip Glass’ early minimalism, while Godrich’s keyboards add touches of Krautrock such as Kraftwerk and Neu!. But the sound is consistently surprising and modern, finding alliances with current bands like LCD Soundsystem. Yorke is a galvanizing presence, moving about the stage as if possessed. Yorke returns for the encore on his own, playing a series of quiescently pretty new songs. They’re melancholy and resigned, bemoaning “the empty space inside my heart where the weeds take root.” The evening ends with the band rejoining Yorke for two new songs, including an expansive, throbbing take on his single, “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses.” This might not be everyone’s idea of dance music, but it’s impossible to ignore the intelligence and musicianship involved.And the further good news is that Yorke says the band is aiming to reconvene next year for more shows.