I feel I should probably admit right off the bat that I have not been a massive fan of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s overall not quite melodic or singable enough and, Lord knows, Thom Yorke can write a beautiful melody. I’m more of a fan of, The Eraser or Amok by supergroup Atoms for Peace. In both songs he mixes his fondness for programming grooveable beats with lovely melodies and acoustic instruments across the entirety of the albums. That being said, I was damned if I wasn’t going to try my hardest to get a ticket to this show. (I got the last one according to the ticket salesman who finally answered the box office phone. Radiohead/Thom Yorke tickets are like Supreme products: low quantity, insane demand and have outrageous re-sale). I’ve been incredibly lucky to see Radiohead twice in Chicago and, as Yorke is my musical hero, it was definitely time to see him as a solo act.
It was well worth the hassle. Backed by trusty long-time Radiohead and solo-Yorke producer, Nigel Godrich, as well as audio-visual composer and computer programmer, Tarik Barri, we heard music from all of Thom Yorke’s solo projects. It felt like a DJ-set at a club with the beats of one song morphing in the beats of the next without a pause. The set-up was quite minimalist, with three space-age looking consoles in Apple store-white with all the MacBooks, mixing boards, looping machines, triggers, and knobs they could possibly need. There was also a electric piano that Yorke played for a few songs when he wasn’t playing guitars or just singing. The visuals, live-mixed by Barri and projected behind the trio packed quite a punch, and frankly were spectacular with loads of color and creative images that moved to the beats. And speaking of fun visuals, there was loads of signature Yorke dancing: backing up, hips shakes, tiny steps, lots of elbows and hands, sometimes smooth, sometimes seizure-like, sometimes jumping. Adorable, really.
The crowd seemed to be there the most for The Eraser songs. Some of the interpretations were a little too bombastic, but maybe it was just the Northrop space. As expected, there was a fair sprinkling of songs from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, the strongest of which were probably “A Brain in a Bottle” (the radio single), and “Truth Ray” which gave a quiet moment to the dance-beat heavy set. My two favorites were from Amok, which is an album I really love and I would totally go to a show of just that album. Yorke performed the title track/album closer which was lovely (“Penny for your thoughts, my love”), and he ended his first encore with the single “Default,” a good choice since it’s very dancey. Not gonna lie, I stood up and did some of my own Thom Yorke-style dancing.
There were rather a lot of unreleased tracks in the set that I was unfamiliar with. I had suspected as much beforehand, so I had looked up previous tour setlists and brought the list with me to follow along. It was a bit too much unknown in a set for my taste and they kind of lost me in several of the songs. Particularly “Not the News”, “Traffic”, and “Twist” felt more like club bangers than anything else I’ve heard from Yorke and co. Whilst they were fine – and got Yorke dancing – I didn’t really latch on to them. However, I did quite like “I am a Very Rude Person” (kudos for honesty, Thom), – which I had heard of, but never actually listened to – and it had a particularly beautiful visual accompaniment. And I would indeed agree that Yorke is very rude for not yet recording this song so I can’t easily hear it again!
I would’ve liked a few more of the songs from Yorke’s new score for the film, Suspiria. I’ll never see that film (gross and scary), but I really like some of the songs. Yorke has only been treating audiences to one song on this tour, in the second encore, alternating either “Suspirium” or “Unmade” every other night – both piano and vocal songs. The Minneapolis audience got Unmade, which frankly was one of the most moving songs of the night. Yorke told us that the director (Luca Guadagnino) had asked him to make “Something sweet to go over exploding heads. I didn’t bat an eyelid. Sure!” The title “Unmade” makes a lot of sense now. I suppose one would be unmade in a sense if your head was exploded off your body! Still that tidbit did not change the loveliness of the song in itself as the audience listened silently and intently. (“Come under my wings, little bird”).
Yorke seemed in fine form and in a grateful mood throughout the night. He thanked us twice for coming out in the freezing cold (as well he should!) And he gave us almost two solid hours of his music and for that, we can be very grateful.
Opener, Oliver Coates, was a nice choice. A classically trained English cellist and composer, who worked with Radiohead on the orchestral accompaniment for A Moon Shaped Pool , he definitely grew on me throughout his set, which in his words consisted of “calm, new-age, cosmic” music. His set was a mix of covers, improvisation, and original work mostly performed with a warm tone and romantic vibrato. I like when classical musicians take their training and technique outside of the classical world and into the electronic or alternative rock world so I may be checking him out some more.
Interference (Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes)
A Brain in a Bottle (TMB)
Impossible Knots (Unreleased)
Black Swan (The Eraser)
I am a Very Rude Person (Unreleased)
Pink Section (TMB)
Nose Grows Some (TMB)
Cymbal Rush (The Eraser)
The Clock (The Eraser)
Two Feet off the Ground (Unreleased)
Amok (Amok by Atoms for Peace)
Not the News (Unreleased)
Truth Ray (TMB)
Harrowdown Hill (The Eraser)
The Axe (Unreleased)
Atoms for Peace (The Eraser)
Unmade (Suspiria soundtrack)
Claire Philpott is an Associate Producer for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She loves all things Thom Yorke.
More photos by Maddy Fox: