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.

RELATED STORY: David Byrne & My Tattoo Manifest Destiny


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.

David Byrne & My Tattoo Manifest Destiny


Show photos by Marc Fong //

Editor Note: Dara Shulman shares her story from the William Onyeabor tribute show at The Warfield in San Francisco May 6th. View the setlist here.

Manifestation: Making something, anything, everything happen because you want it. You think about it. You put your energy, your being into making this happen. 

I am a David Byrne fanatic. When I first listened to the Stop Making Sense album freshman year of high school, my life was changed forever. Byrne’s music reached a part of my soul that I didn’t even know existed.  Fourteen years later, my passion for his music has only amplified.

I saw David Byrne perform last year with the incredible St. Vincent and my mind was blown. Last night at The Warfield in San Francisco, I made my way to the very front row mid-show, stood directly in front of Byrne, and lost myself.  Atomic Bomb, a hodge-podge of musicians including Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip, Kele Okereke from Bloc Party, Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem, Sinkane and many more played tribute to William Onyeabor as part of a fourteen-piece conglomeration.  I started off dancing with my friends, but then I needed, felt compelled by everything in my being to get closer to Byrne. I had already made a pact with myself, my manifestation, to get David Byrne to sign my left ankle two days ago. 

I held up my ticket with “I love you David” ballpoint pen-written upon it, hoping to get his attention to get an autograph. He is so damned professional that he did not flinch. I know we made eye contact (my bright orange shirt matched his bright orange hat), but he was so focused on his performance — I absolutely respect that. 

When the show was over, I could barely move. I just spent an hour standing inches away from a musician that quite literally changed my life. It was hard to breathe.  A roadie was kind enough to give me a set list taped on the speaker: fuck yeah.

Minutes later, I went to the stage door.  I chatted with the roadies and stage crew, “Any chance I can meet Mr. Byrne?”  While they saw my enthusiasm, there is only so much they can do. So, I waited. A member of the band came out. I introduced myself and congratulated him on a fantastic performance. “Is there any way I can meet David Byrne? I am a die-hard fan.”

He was kind enough to give me a wristband to go to the after party down in the basement of The Warfield.  “Put this on, relax, grab a drink and enjoy yourself.” “Okay.” Meanwhile, I’m freaking out in my head and trying to catch my breath and comprehend what was about to happen.

I walk downstairs, play it cool and meet a few of the musicians. I’m looking around and accidentally stumble into a white-clad shirt David Byrne.  Oh damn.  “Excuse Mr. Byrne….I am a huge fan; your music changed my life, may I have your autograph?” He very sweetly agreed to sign my set list.

“Is it okay if I take a picture with you?” “Sure.” “Can I put my arm around you?” “Yes.”  “Mr. Bryne, I walked down the aisle at my wedding to “Naïve Melody”, this is absolutely amazing to meet you.” He chuckled but was so polite. I stuck around a little because I needed to get him to sign my ankle: this was my manifestation.  I hung back, I didn’t want to be obnoxious and pushy.  He saw me again and asked me to take a picture of him with some other fans.

“Of course! Can I ask you one more favor? Can you please sign my ankle?” I lifted up my leg with my jeans rolled up. “Do you want to sit down?” “Nope, I can balance, go for it!” I put my hand on his shoulder and with my ballpoint pen he signed my ankle. He said, “A ballpoint pen is weird.” “That’s all I have Mr. Byrne. Thank you…” I exited quickly.

Holy fucking shit.
Dreams really do come true.  Tomorrow, I will be getting his signature tattooed to my body. 

UPDATE: Manifested


Atomic Bomb

New Music Tuesday: Wiz Khalifa • A-Trak • Memory Tapes • Alexis Taylor • Scott Walker

Wiz Khalifa - O.N.I.F.C.

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks and supplying the latest videos for select albums.

Wiz KhalifaO.N.I.F.C.

Top Track: “Remember You” feat. The Weeknd

Wiz Khalifa’s LP, which was troubled by multiple delays, see collaborations with Cam’ron, Pharrell and The Weeknd.

A-TrakTuna Melt [EP]

Check out this preview for A-Trak’s new four-track EP. Mmmmm tuna melt.

Memory TapesGrace/Confusion

Top Track: “Sheila”

This six-song album is from New Jersey-based producer Dayve Hawk.

Alexis TaylorNayim from the Halfway Line [EP]

The lead singer from Hot Chip releases this four-track EP, and apparently he’s an Arsenal fan. The fùtbol moment that’s oddly in the middle of the video is what the name of the EP is referring to.

Scott WalkerWarrior

Top Track: “Epizootics!”

The 1960’s pop sensation turned experimental artist is releasing his first album in six years.