Thom Yorke and Flea

Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles

The news that Thom Yorke had come to Los Angeles and formed a temporary supergroup with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers was surprise enough to most Radiohead fans. Most were intrigued, but for those concerned with rock credibility it was like hearing that the chaps from Peep Show were taking a break to write a show with Jim Davidson, or that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was collaborating with Bernard Matthews on a turkey burger.

Then, for those lucky enough to get hold of tickets for the suddenly announced shows (first a "rehearsal show" at the 600-capacity Echoplex nightclub, then two nights at the glorious 2,000-seater Orpheum Theatre) the even bigger surprise was in seeing what would happen when Yorke's solo album, The Eraser, was played in full by this new, nameless band, also featuring Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards, Joey Waronker on drums and Mauro Refosco on Brazilian percussion.

Harrowdown Hill, a gut-wrenching work that queries whether the death of Ministry of Defence weapons expert Dr David Kelly was really suicide, has been described by Yorke as "the angriest song I have ever written". So who knew that what it really needed was a funky Chili Peppers bassline wriggling through it? Yet somehow Flea managed to take this most haunting and most English of songs and make it his own. The Clock turned into something between trip-hop and dubstep, thanks to the pounding tribal beat of Refosco's berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian instrument used to keep time in capoeira slave dances.

Skip Divided saw Flea, a gifted trumpeter, parping into a melodica, and on some songs Godrich provided backing vocals. Yet the biggest surprise of all was seeing Flea and Yorke share the front of the stage to dance together – Yorke wiggling his hips while an electric shock appeared to run through his arms; Flea doing his unique loose-neck limbo, like a swan that has mistaken itself for a woodpecker.

"This music was all about making a dance record, in my head, so if you want to sit there like it's a cinema that's fine," announced Yorke, "but if you want to get up ..." And with that, an audience that included Hollywood actors Tobey Maguire, Anne Hathaway and Woody Harrelson leapt to their feet.

Later, Yorke was left alone to play three new songs at the piano: Lotus Flower, Open the Floodgates, and Super Collider, the latter involving piano chords that looped from major to minor with an unadulterated sweetness rarely associated with Radiohead. Then the band returned for an encore of Paperbag Writer (dedicated to Colin Greenwood, the only Radiohead member in the audience), Judge, Jury & Executioner, The Hollow Earth, and Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses.

Lily Allen, recently annoyed by Radiohead's support for guerrilla music industry schemes, may be even more annoyed now. Not only did this show require a marketing budget of zero but rehearsal time was only three weeks, according to Yorke, "so I'd like to thank these guys for working their tits off".

The biggest cheer of the night came during Atoms for Peace. "No more talk about the old days," he sang, "it's time for something great."


Sophie Heawood

The GuardianTramp

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