Live Review: Thom Yorke @ Orpheum Theatre, December 20, 2018
In a nice bit of symmetry, Thom Yorke’s live show returned to Los Angeles for a pair of dates at the Orpheum Theatre December 19 and 20, almost one year to the date where his new solo incarnation debuted at the Fonda Theatre in 2017.
The production, billed as “Thom Yorke Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is performed as a three-piece on a minimalist stage holding three podiums: Yorke, on various, er, modern (analog, musical) boxes, bass, guitar and piano, accompanied by constant collaborator/producer Nigel Godrich, on assortment of tabletop gear and a bit of bass guitar, along with artist Tarik Barri, who is a fully integrated member, creating a backdrop of gorgeous real-time computer-generated visuals set the the music.
The core of the set is divided into a tidy 1/3-1/3-1/3 between Yorke’s two solo LP releases and newer as of yet unreleased material. The show is a fulfilling hour and a half mix of Yorke’s propulsive and punchy beat-driven electronica, with the two musicians playing off each other comfortably and the show has the feel more of a jam session than the common pre-programmed electronic set. The sounds alternate from sparser riff-based tunes (“Black Swan”) to more layered miasmic pieces (the brilliant unreleased “Not the News”). Yorke’s voice is the steadying constant, navigating atop and within the noise. It’s an engaging mix, keeping most attendees in the theater standing out of their seats for the majority of the show, awkwardly swaying and head bobbing to the rhythms.
Having seen this show a second time, however, it’s Barri who emerges as a star in his own right. His projections of evolving shapes and patterns, alternating between soft, organic and rigid, computerized textures are thoroughly engrossing, snapping, stretching and twisting on the music’s beats. There’s a price I’d pay just to watch his imagery alone with merely canned music; set to Thom Yorke’s live compositions, it’s really a bonus, nearly two shows in one.
Largely playing the same core set each night on the tour, it’s been the encores that stamp a given night with its own signature moment. Being in Los Angeles, homebase for Yorke’s other non-Radiohead act, Atoms for Peace, it only made sense that some version of that band would appear for the encore (as they did both nights) with members Flea and Joey Waronker, joining on bass guitar and drum kit respectively, for pared down takes of that band’s eponymous track from The Eraser and then “Default” from AFP album. After a second encore of Yorke performing a tender solo version of his piano waltz “Supirium” from his Suspiria soundtrack (far and away the best thing about the film) the night ends.
What separates these tunes, these shows, from the rest of the vast world of electronica, in addition to the foundation of Barri’s visuals, is of course having an icon musician as frontman in Yorke–his one of a kind voice, his eminently GIF-able dance moves, his all around presence–imbuing the music with more wit and soul than common for the genre. Where his primary band’s output leans serious and cerebral, Yorke solo is more playful and physical. All told, it’s moved well beyond “side project” to become an essential counterpart and addendum to Radiohead.
Thom Yorke Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes resumes touring in Summer 2019 with some of festival dates already lined up.
Photo by Sung. Full gallery here.
Thom Yorke | tomorrowsmodernboxes.com