Thom Yorke Kicks Off U.S. Solo Tour With Live Debut of 'Suspiria' Material and More

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Rachel DiLouie
Thom Yorke performs during the opening night of his solo U.S. tour on Nov. 23, 2018 in Philadelphia.

Among the 2,500 fans who filed in to Philadelphia's Franklin Music Hall on Friday night (Nov. 23) to watch Thom Yorke perform his first east coast solo set in eight years, there must have been a few in the crowd who’d purchased their tickets assuming that the alt-rock demigod was simply in town for another, perhaps more austere run at the Radiohead catalog. Maybe he’d be trying out a few new arrangements just in case the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame comes calling in 2019, you know?

How confused those poor, misinformed souls must have been before they realized that Yorke would be playing everything but the jams he’s penned with Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway and the brothers Greenwood over the last 30 years. Instead, this was a true, blue-gray re-visitation of Yorke’s Radiohead-adjacent projects thus far: his skittering 2006 solo debut, Eraser; the electro-experimental supergroup Atoms For Peace’s lone record, 2013’s AMOK; and his numbing 2014 follow-up, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, which some might remember best as the LP Yorke chose to release via the peer-to-peer sharing juggernaut BitTorrent.    

Despite the four-year gap, Boxes was technically the album of honor this night at Franklin Music Hall (formerly The Electric Factory). The 19-date tour, Yorke’s heftiest block of U.S. solo shows to date, is named for the dizzying album, which harnesses Yorke’s ever-swelling obsession with electronica and magnifies it ten-fold, even beyond the darkest, coldest reaches of Kid A and The King Of Limbs.  

Yorke performed five of the eight new-ish Boxes tracks from a stage resembling the slipshod workspace of a tech startup, complete with laptops, knobs, buttons, switches and other indeterminable gadgets strewn about three small programming stations. A keyboard was positioned at the rise’s front corner, and the shadow of a bass guitar hung near the back, just before three vertical screens.

Yorke and his longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, who has produced every Radiohead album since Ok Computer, took turns managing some of the digital equipment that bore the dissonance and deep-house thumps associated with Yorke’s solo work. Tarik Barri, a Dutch audio-visual guru who has worked with Yorke since 2013, stood at another table, forging a masterful spread of shapes and colors on the screens in real time to provide attendees a two-piece sensory experience.

For how mechanized and inhuman this all may sound, there was, in fact, plenty of blood, sweat and fluidity to this performance. Yorke, 50, was fiercely committed to the set, his head bobbing, his shoulders and hips wobbling through pulse-pounders “Brain In A Box” and “Cymbal Rush,” all the while lobbing his falsetto wails, imbuing more measured tracks “Interference” and “Atoms For Peace” with a siren-like quality. Granted, this wasn’t a particularly melodic set -- the relentless drum machine proved rather exhausting by the end of the 105-minute stretch -- but Yorke was affable and engaged, quick with a grin for the sold-out audience. The slight, straggled frontman reveled in his esoteric and whimsical element, challenging his small sea of listeners to bop to the beat as he was.

The most devout Yorke diehards will likely remember this performance for its sampling of new, so-far-unreleased material, which could hint at new solo record coming sooner rather than later. Six fresh songs were rolled out, the most memorable being “Two Feet Off The Ground,” which featured an exhilarating sonic crest near its middle, and the trance-like “I Am A Very Rude Person,” which included a mid-song shift from knobs to Telecaster for Yorke and conjured the following inquiry, from me at least: If more traditionally guitar-centric bands went the way of Radiohead and embraced electronic music as fervently as pop and hip-hop have, would alt-rock still be as de rigueur in 2018 as it was when Yorke and Co. began nearly three decades ago?

Whatever the reality, he will undoubtedly continue to tinker. His most recent release, Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film), is an orchestral score adroitly penned for the art-horror remake of Dario Argento's giallo classic. This work is largely unrecognizable from the solo canon and very well may earn him an Oscar nomination when the time comes. One tune from the soundtrack, a sweeping, stand-alone piano number called “Unmade,” was performed live for the first time Friday night and concluded the Philadelphia set.

If you bought tickets to see Yorke between now and Christmas, expect to abide closely to the Golden Rule of all things avant-garde: Attention breeds satisfaction. You will get what you give.

Just don’t expect any Radiohead songs -- until Yorke shatters that notion, too.

Thom Yorke’s solo tour kick-off setlist:

“Interference”
“A Brain in a Bottle”
“Impossible Knots”
“Black Swan”
“I Am a Very Rude Person”
“Pink Section”
“Nose Grows Some”
“Cymbal Rush”
“The Clock”
“Two Feet Off the Ground”
“Amok” (by Atoms for Peace)
“Not the News”
“Truth Ray”
“Traffic”
“Twist”

Encore:

“The Axe”
“Atoms for Peace”
“Default” (by Atoms for Peace)

Encore 2:

“Unmade”


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