Thom Yorke has made a name for himself as the lead singer and songwriter of Radiohead, but in-between his time with the band he’s also had a pair of successful solo albums as well as a side project, Atoms for Peace. This year he released his third solo album, a soundtrack for the 2018 movie Suspiria (a remake of the Dario Argento horror classic), a largely experimental (and instrumental) affair meant to enhance and invoke the atmosphere of the film. While it might have been reasonable to expect Yorke to tour on the back of this release, the show was instead billed as an extension of touring for his last solo release, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
While much of Radiohead’s music falls firmly into the art rock category, Yorke’s solo material takes a distinctly more electronic turn. Backed by long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich, with constantly shifting and strobing visuals by artist Tarik Barri, Yorke brought the sold-out audience as close to a dance party as it was possible to get in the stately (and seated, though many spent the show on their feet) Kennedy Center. Yorke himself was an unending fountain of energy, bouncing around the stage between two electronic stations and a guitar, and in between dancing, microphone in hand. His slurred and mumbled vocals are frequently hard to understand even on the recordings, and the words were even more lost in the mix of the live setting, but it didn’t matter. The vitality of the performance was infectious.
Much of the set was drawn from Yorke’s two earlier solo albums, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (“Interference,” “A Brain in a Bottle,” “Pink Section,” “Nose Grows Some,” and “Truth Ray”) and 2006’s The Eraser (“Black Swan,” “Cymbal Rush,” “The Clock,” and “Atoms for Peace”). While he steadfastly avoided playing any Radiohead material, he did also include two songs from the Atoms for Peace project, “Amok” and “Default.” Perhaps most interesting, though, were a number of still unreleased live songs that Yorke has been playing in his set for some time now – “Impossible Knots,” “I’m a Very Rude Person,” “Not the News,” “Traffic,” “Twist,” and “The Axe.” While Yorke has been playing some of these songs live for several years now, there has not yet been any official recorded release of them, making live performance still the best place to hear them.
Yorke finished out the night solo, at the piano, playing his one song from Suspria for the night, “Suspirium.” The sparseness of the song, after the electronic and visual assault on the senses of the rest of the show, was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was only a shame that he didn’t also play the other vocal track from the soundtrack, “Unmade” (instead, he’s been alternating between the two songs in his sets).
Opening the night was cellist and electronic composer Oliver Coates, playing an ambient, instrumental set of music from his recently released album Shelley’s on Zenn-La. Coates might be familiar to Radiohead fans for his appearances on their most recent album A Moon Shaped Pool, as well as several of Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s film scores. Live, his cello playing took front-and-center, without the processing that frequently renders it unrecognizable on his recordings. The result was more ambient than much of his recorded work, but it served to help transform the venue and stage the mood for the evening.
Thom Yorke 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 Not the News Truth Ray Traffic Twist