The big news about Thom Yorke’s show last night at the Orpheum, may have been this impromptu reunion of the members of Atoms for Peace: If longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich was on stage since the beginning, the encore brought bassist Flea and drummer Joey Waronker for a few songs, which seems to come like an early Christmas present for people who have had the chance to get a ticket for the first of Yorke’s two sold-out shows, inside the beautiful vintage theater.
Radiohead fans have an obsessive nature and there’s always some level of anxiety when it comes to buying a concert ticket, and even though Thom Yorke did not touch anything related to Radiohead material, it was the same stress-inducing endeavor when these tickets went on sale a few months ago, and I was just happy to have a seat, even if it was seating on row W!
Cellist Oliver Coates opened the night with a really interesting set that should have fascinated any Radiohead fan. Alone on stage with his cello, his music was part classical, part electronic and beat-oriented. Starting with an emotive looping cello that could have soundtracked a 18th century movie, his vibrant strings were shaking (in a very good way) all my Radiohead fibers: Unsurprisingly, Oliver has made crucial contributions to Radiohead’s last album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, and soon, the amazing distortion and range of noises he was getting from his instrument, should have instantaneously widened anybody’s idea of the use of a cello. His bass lines were looking for depth and his melodious loops were reworking a new version of a possible Ravel’s Bolero, while voices and beats surfaced. Very humbly, he told us he was just preparing us for the beautiful storm to come.
The back of the room wasn’t actually a bad deal if you wanted to enjoy the incredible visuals created by Tarik Barri, who stood behind his computer the entire time, as he was live mixing the visuals to be projected behind the trio. One thing is certain, Yorke’s avant-garde electronica is deeply visual, and in this 2018 multi-media world, music and visuals are intricately connected… Thom Yorke has been using these stunning effects for a while and it truly works, as Barri’s creations ravished our eyes and minds with colorful landscapes, torrid sunsets, furious skies or enraged seas, Chinese ink tempests and other bright UFOs… each song unfolded a unique series of abstract visuals which could not have looked better from my seat – during the encore, I actually left my seat to get closer to the stage, and the visual effect was of course very different.
I don’t think anybody expected anything from Radiohead’s catalog, but anyway, Thom gave us the best of his solo projects, with cuts from ‘The Eraser’, ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’, plus songs from Atoms For Peace’s ‘Amok’, as well as a few album-orphan ones, at least to my knowledge. I must ignorance about all these Thom Yorke’s side-project songs, the ones that he’s been playing live over the past few years, (Impossible Knots’, ‘Not the News’, The Axe’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Two Feet Off the Ground’, ‘Twist’) and in the end, there were a lot of songs I didn’t know. But I deeply plunged into the colorful acid trip and let the beats carry me through one of the most visually exciting concerts of the year.
So much has been said of Thom Yorke’s ability to marry electronica with profound melodies enhanced by his unique high croon and desolated keys, and the first song, ‘Interference’, couldn’t have been a better example of this. Besides Thom’s vocals, the most familiar part of the show may have been the electro beats, mastered by Nigel or Thom (at this point I am not sure who was doing what), as they had these infectious, diverse, exotic, glitchy, organic, hypnotic qualities, stabbing you in the heart, and altering your own heartbeat, bringing comfort and melancholia at the same time. And I don’t know why they had decided to do this in a seated theater, because at the second song, everyone in the venue was standing up, and barely anybody sat back during the 2-hour concert.
‘Black Swan’ delivered its subtle creepy samba tempo with Yorke’s deadpan and resigned repetition ‘Cause this is fucked up, fucked up’, while the music got more and more anxious during ‘Harrowdown Hill’, the most Radiohead-Hail-to-the-Chief moment of the show. The luminescent and sad ‘Nose Grows Some’ brought one of the most poetic visuals of the night, a dark night illuminated by fireflies-like alien entities slowly falling down, while the music was crackling like a campfire… this moment was riveting, as immersive as a deep dive surrounded by fluorescent jellyfish.
But there were plenty of intense moments, unleashed like sonic tempests (Cymbal Rush’), running away like anxious mechanisms (The Clock) and while electronics maintained a large place during the entire show, Godrich at times walked away from his laptop and took a guitar or a bass, while Thom sat behind a keyboard. The tone of the night was dominated by invisible synth and the glitchy tonalities of ‘Two Feet Off the Ground’ or ‘Amok’, while songs were multi-layered by warm deep bass lines and a rainforest of sounds. Between Yorke’s crazy high falsetto and his usual little dance (for the great joy of the crowd), the music was deeply impregnated by an overall melancholia, surfacing from songs like ‘Truth Ray’ or ‘The Axe’, barely erasing the experimental electronica of his most recent and unreleased songs, which were layering synth swirls to Brazilian drums, while giving nods to EDM at times.
But the encore brought a light ‘Atoms For Peace’ with Flea and Joey Waronker on stage, welcomed on stage by a few triumphant ‘Yes’ from the crowd, Thom said it was ‘our default song’ to announce ‘Default’ and it was almost the only time he talked to us during the entire night. After this burst of chaos with obsessive beats, Thom came back for a second encore and played his haunting, ethereal piano ballad ‘Unmade’ that he composed for the soundtrack of Suspiria. It was a way to end the show in a very mellow, sad, comforting way, one of the many facets of this kaleidoscopic concert.
There is no easy way to sum up Thom Yorke’s music in a sentence, it is a rich web, filled with rhythms and transcendental journeys, oscillating between meditation and anger, working on an omnipresent anxiety while the often cryptic lyrics give the finishing coat to an abstract, multi-media universe that the three (then 5) men were creating in front of the wide eyes of an adoring crowd shouting: ‘Thank you!’
Thom and his friends looked radiant when the show ended, they had brought back some good AFP memories to all these die-hard fans while continuing to explore new grounds and open new doors. Yorke may have had a new album to promote, the soundtrack for ‘Suspiria’, but he barely played it, after all, a movie soundtrack is not really concert-material. However, the freedom of music exploration in display for two hours was pure liberation.
A Brain in a Bottle (TMB)
Black Swan (The Eraser)
Harrowdown Hill (The Eraser)
Pink Section (TMB)
Nose Grows Some (TMB)
Cymbal Rush (The Eraser)
The Clock (The Eraser)
Two Feet Off the Ground
Amok (Atoms for Peace song)
Not the News
Truth Ray (TMB)
Atoms for Peace (The Eraser) (with Flea and Joey Waronker)
Default (Atoms for Peace song)
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid
a restless and fearless freak show
Eminem and Calvin couldn’t move Bey
summer’s entertainment is rewarded
compares the end of a romance to the end of life
House pure and simple