David Byrne & Co. drop an ‘Atomic Bomb’ on The Warfield

Atomic-Bomb_David-ByrnePhotos by Marc Fong // Written by Molly Kish //

ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor
Performed by David Byrne, Alexis Taylor, Pat Mahoney, Lijadu Sisters, Kele Okereke, & more
The Warfield — San Francisco
May 6th, 2014 //

Who is William Onyeabor? This question was not only raised but also rectified with authority this past Tuesday night at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. But first, a bit of background:

Nigerian-born electronic archetype William Onyeabor changed the entire scope of African funk music in the 1970’s, then he went almost completely unnoticed until recent years. Leading an existence shrouded in mystery and seclusion, Onyeabor single-handedly created a prolific sound through his use of rare sequencers and drum machines that, until then, had never been experimented with in his country.

Independently surpassing the technological achievements of the most major record labels of his time, Onyeabor’s groundbreaking advances in electronic music were entirely unrivaled in the contemporary funk music scene. Venturing into new audio territories with the use of MOOG synths, purportedly brought back from an excursion to Eastern Europe, Onyeabor created an infectiously futuristic groove that changed the entire course of electronic music not only in Africa, but on an ingenious level worldwide.


Fast forward to the present as Luaka Bop founder and musical virtuoso David Byrne has unearthed Onyeabor’s self-released eight album discography and organized a top secret live music project called “ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor”, bringing it to life on stage at the Warfield Tuesday for the third time ever.

With an all-star cast of incredible artists, the Atomic Bomb! band took the stage to provide a near-religious experience (mock-secular program included), reviving the spirit of Onyeabor’s body of work. Lending their various talents to the incredible performance, Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), Pat Mahoney (LCD Soundsystem), Joshua Redman, Money Mark, The Lijadu Sisters and Sinkane (the musical director) were accompanied by Byrne (along with a full horn section and backing band) as an ensemble cast of transitioning singers, each representing their own version of the legend, William Onyeabor.

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This show included 12 extended songs, and it was surreal watching the incredible super-group collaborate and reinvigorate such an astounding body of work. The stage was never inhabited with less than 6-8 bodies at a time, all of which was continuously reaffirmed with the shoulder-grazing capacity crowd. A cast of characters, each member of the group had their moments to shine, playing off each other as though they had been performing the material together for years. The natural chemistry on stage between the collective, punctuated by quirky exchanges and various levels of individual showmanship, made for a live show that exceeded euphoric expectations.

The caliber of musicianship, paired with the Atomic Bomb! band’s group dynamic, was beyond explanation. Witnessing these pioneering artists reconceive compositions that helped to truly develop their own sound and genre’s place in musical history was incredibly fascinating and something every member of the house could tangibly feel they were part of. The transcendental quality that William Onyeabor set out to achieve through his work years ago not only was recognized this past Tuesday at the Warfield, but expanded upon into a completely otherworldly experience that anyone present will not soon forget.


  1. Great post and great photos! I’m so sad Kele wasn’t present for the performance in Brooklyn! But Byrne and everyone else present was completely inspiring.


  1. […] Here are pics from Atomic Bomb! And you can read the full review on ShowBams. […]

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