I’ve been told by friends in the past that seeing Thom Yorke is a religious experience.
They’re not wrong.
On his second tour for his 2014 album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Yorke, along with his longtime producer Nigel Godrich and ethereal visual artist Tarik Barri, have been traveling America for the past month playing shows that were guaranteed by multiple music sites to be stunning. Thanks to the generosity of Goldenvoice and KXSC, I got to see the legendary Radiohead lead singer and his dynamic duo perform at the beautiful and grandiose Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles. The ornate, golden details surrounding the stage and exquisite carvings on the ceilings explain why this venue fit Yorke’s performance pristinely.
Starting off the bill with a completely solo set, Oliver Coates took the stage with cello in hand. Having toured with Yorke and Radiohead before, I was interested to hear what a cellist and an electronic artist had in common. To my pleasant surprise, his set blended the acoustic nature of the cello with electronically produced tracks gracefully and unlike anything I’d heard before. It is extremely hard to mix in an orchestral instrument to electronic music, but Coates pulled it off with ease. Coates added different effects to the deep roar of the cello, which made it almost sound, as if the instrument was a synthesizer. While most of his music was very melodic instrumentations, he ended his set with a noisy, more experimental track, using a significant amount of distortion on his cello.
Then, Thom began to play. I got to see a bit of it up close and personal while running around the aisles of the theatre trying to get the best shot (shoutout to my photo pass cred). Sonically, Yorke’s sound, alongside his longtime-producer Nigel Godrich, was flawless. Along with Thom Yorke’s renowned voice, his setup was very minimal, with each of the three people on stage having their own station of gear. Yorke opened the set with, fittingly, two Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ tracks, “Interference” and “A Brain in a Bottle.” Throughout the performance, Yorke defied the “Thom Yorke stereotype” of cold, stiff, and uncharismatic sad boy. Instead, he was jumping around and dancing all around the stage. He looked excited, carefree, and even displayed his funky, interpretative Thom Yorke dance moves. In summation, he was captivating, especially since I was expecting the opposite.
While standing in front of Tarik Barri’s stunning visuals, the show as a unit was optically enchanting. The band’s set-up looked minimal, which gave room for the graphics to be as expressive or maximal as possible. The visuals were done live, so they were very reflective of what Thom and Nigel were doing musically.
The set list obviously included classics from both Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and The Eraser, such as “Nose Grows Some,” “Black Swan,” and “The Clock.” However, Yorke did bring out some unreleased songs like “Traffic” and “Impossible Knots,” causing fans (granted, fans on Reddit) to anticipate a new EP.
The encores, however, really put the show above and beyond for me. With the first one, he brought out Flea, crazy hat, bouncy bass moves, and all, and an Atoms for Peace reunion took place. They first played, coincidentally, “Atoms for Peace” off Yorke’s debut album, The Eraser, and then the AFP hit, “Default” with the band’s original drummer Joey Waronker. In the show’s final encore, Thom ended with “Unmade,” a song from his recent and first ever film score for the remake of Suspiria.
To no surprise, Thom Yorke is an incredible and spiritual experience. Yet, seeing Thom come out of his supposed “shell” and create a performance that I couldn’t even imagine. Call me bias, since it’s my first Thom Yorke show; but, if any artist makes a first-timer be in awe even days after his concert, he must be doing something right.
— Olivia De Witt