Having only started practicing in Wales four weeks ago, EOB, the new side project of Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, played its fourth gig at the intimate Masonic Lodge at Hollywood’s celebrated cemetery. With a capacity of only 150, it was a rare treat to see in such a tight room a band led by a guitarist for one of the biggest bands in the world. It was also an opportunity to live preview of most of the songs that will appear on EOB’s debut album Earth, currently set for April 17, of which only two tracks have been released.
Taking the stage to the haunting “Santa Teresa” playing over the speakers, the band went right into the quirky beat that opens “Shangri-La,” also the first track on Earth. O’Brien has spoken about the inspiration behind the music when a move to Brazil and the witnessing of Carnivale gave him an awakening of sorts. If that’s the case, EOB’s “Shangri-la” has a new take on this sort of enlightenment, assuming Brazil was his Shangri-la. Facing a utopia populated by near-immortals as described in the original tale, O’Brien in the song is only reminded of his own fade: “I didn’t really know that I feel so cold/ until I found Shangri-La/ I didn’t really know I could feel so old/ until I found Shangri-La.” The escalating momentum and accumulation of layered hooks and earworms from the five-piece band telegraphed a realization, that to be reminded of one’s age need not be a submission to the inevitable march of time, but a reminder of the burgeoning power of youth and that it can still be harnessed. It only requires a nudge, and if the following collection of songs was a result of that realization, those of us growing long in the tooth should take note.
The electro energy of “Banksters,” “Brasil” and “Olympik,” often supplemented with acoustic and analog elements, not to mention O’Brien’s vocal forays into falsetto, don’t necessarily so much betray a carryover of that other big band he’s in so much as highlight his irreplaceable contribution. Even as a frontman his guitar playing was mostly in the atmospheric, Edge-influenced vein that has characterized virtually all of Radiohead’s post-Bends efforts, creating space over melody. In the live incarnation of EOB, that role is left to Ross Chapman, whose restlessly syncopated scratching, scribbling, and strumming plays off the manic bass and drums.
These more upbeat songs were the thumping heart of Thursday’s show. The more sedate ones, like “Sail On” (which he touchingly dedicated to his 103-year-old grandmother who recently passed) and “Mass,” often felt like spacey space-filler. Although they weren’t as musically interesting, the general atmosphere and hyper-saturated lighting, which often took on the colors of ripe fruit painting the irregular textures of the towering wall behind the band, ushered in surprising moments of reverie.
The relatively short, encore-less 11-song set included a few covers that injected a different sort of energy, like the funky closer “I Got The,” which, following the no-holds-barred jam of “Olympic” (featuring a ridiculously frenetic drum solo by Alvin Ford, Jr.), completely rebooted the vibe built through the rest of the set, shaking things up after a stretch that had begun to risk monotony. O’Brien’s perfectly British self-deprecation added a level of self-awareness to the limited catalog, ending with a cover because “we ran out of songs.”
He also pointed out that the endings of a lot of the live versions of these songs have not been decided, and most end with a jam, hand signals marking time to wrap up. The fact that they only began practicing four weeks earlier is astonishing, which, from the audience’s point of view in such a close setting, only enhanced the intimacy, witnessing a group of musicians who have been acquainted, and are now really getting to know each other. “We’re starting to feel like a band,” O’Brien said. It’s exciting to imagine what that band will become.
Love Story (Layo & Bushwacka! cover)
Long Time Coming
On My Own (Ulrich Schnauss cover)
I Got The (Labi Siffre cover)
All Photos by Ekaterina Gorbacheva