Thom Yorke At The Fonda, Tuesday December 12th 2017
Having a ticket for a Thom Yorke solo show in Hollywood feels like a privilege these days, the Radiohead frontman does not give too many shows, and the 1,200-seat capacity Fonda theater was certainly packed to the roof on Tuesday night, leaving many scalpers outside empty handed, while tickets for the show on Vividseats went for ten times their face value. How did I manage to get a ticket? I still don’t know, but I got there very early to find a long line already formed in front of the Theater, as people had probably arrived mid day or even earlier.
If I have been to a few Radiohead shows, I had never seen Thom Yorke alone, and I was not even truly familiar with his solo stuff, which recently made the news because it was made available on Spotify, despite Thom’s vehement disdain for the streaming service. I had listened to ‘The Eraser’ and ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ just a few times, without forming that same connection than I have with any Radiohead album, but at the end, my lack of familiarity with the music didn’t really matter, because Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich played a lot of unreleased and new songs, all enhanced by the crazy beautiful computerized visuals of Tarik Barri.
The stage looked like a set of a science fiction movie, with three modern designed tables holding computers and electronics in front of a white triptych, a giant canvas for Barri’s visuals which became beautiful universes dancing at the sound of the music.The three men arrived on stage acclaimed like heroes, at the sound of many ‘Oh my God!’ around me, although this futuristic setting was in complete contrast with Thom’s casual look: he had his usual man bun, and was wearing black trousers tucked into a black tee assorted with immaculate white sneakers.
‘Thank you!’, screamed someone at the very beginning… ‘I haven’t done anything yet’ answered Thom before playing ‘The Clock’ of his 2006 ‘Eraser’ album. Last night, Thom Yorke’s music was a throbbing dance of curious sounds and bright lights, with OK-Computer voices and a touch of a guitar here and there, which brought some unexpected funk in ‘A Brain in a Bottle’, while Yorke’s very recognizable plaintive croon was floating inside the micro universe which had taken over the Fonda theater. The beats were creative and danceable, floating in their own dimension of sounds with bass lines and synth textures, building a collective ommm of pleasure over the crowd.
Of course, all the fun was coming from Thom’s dancing, he got very close to the public quite a few times during the unreleased ‘Impossible Knots’, showing up his stamping and waving moves, all snake arms in the air and bouncing white sneakers.
‘This song is called ‘I Am A Very Rude Person’’, he said before a new song that he interpreted with a soaring falsetto and more of his expressive dance moves over Nigel’s bass loop and kicking beats, and after a few missteps along the way, he admitted, ‘Memory is not what it used to be’, while making a ‘sorry if I have messed up’ gesture with his arms. The crowd was of course with him 100% all the time, cheering up at his faux-pas, as if they were amused that even God can make mistakes – but I have to be honest, I couldn’t tell if there were any.
The anxious ‘Two Feet Off the Ground’ had probably some of the most amazing visuals of the night with its black ink dropping from the top of the white panels, soon looking like a series of polluted black clouds menacing the stage, while the soundscape took a sudden turn revealing hints of rave party, shuffled with something from an old Radiohead classic. ‘Amok’ had the most real guitar/bass part of the night, while Thom and Nigel moved together from behind their respective tables, and it was the only real departure from electronica of the night, which was otherwise the most Thom-dancing-inside-the-matrix show I have ever seen.
At no moment, the musicians were looking for hooks or melodies, the new songs like the old ones sounded like abstract sonic sculptures drifting in a lonely universe just after the big band, with Thom’s melancholic vocals as the only human thing out there to guide us. This was even more palpable during the church-y ‘Truth Ray’ and its bright UFOs, dying stars, white dwarfs or whatever was flying behind him in the background visuals. New songs like ‘Traffic’ had an undeniable Middle-Eastern clap-along nightclub layer, above its already complex structure of synth, not that Yorke had suddenly became Omar Souleyman, but his dance became more frenetic with undulating arm gestures so strong that the rhythm invaded his whole body, and the intense black and white visuals during ‘Twist’ did accentuate its all-glitch texture. ‘When is the new album?’ screamed someone in the crowd… ‘That’s it’, answered Nigel, whatever he meant.
The songs were following each other at a rapid pace, with their stuttering beats blending into each other, and echoes of distant rave parties kaleidoscoped by Nigel’s magical synth and Thom’s bun power dance. If the visuals during the instrumental ‘Pink Section’ followed by ‘Nose Grows Some’ were all lanterns in the sky, fluorescent jellyfish floating in the sea, they turned into growing cold icicles during ‘Cymbal Rush/Saturday’, a sudden moment of poignancy as blue ice turned red fire, languid synth swirls turned into a battle of exotic beats, a battle of the elements, an all-fired up cosmic discotheque. The curtains fell down as if it was the definitive end of the show, but they came back for a song, just one. ‘Five more’, screamed the crowd, ‘We only got one’, calmly replied Thom before ‘Interference’, leaving the crowd asking for more and not giving completely what everyone wanted.
While leaving the place, I was thinking about all these textures too subtle for description, these layers of sounds searching (or not) for a melody they never really find. Thom Yorke solo is not Radiohead, the soaring choruses and the poignant Jonny Greenwood moments are not really there, and I am still surprised that this music is adored by so many people, it’s not easy music, it’s not love at the first listen. Is it because it comes with a Radiohead aura around it? You certainly can’t escape this, but Yorke’s music operates on another level than anything else, it’s post rock, post electronica dance, post everything, a deconstructed collage of beats, reconstructed according to a map only enclosed in Thom’s brain.
A Brain in a Bottle
Impossible Knots (unreleased)
I Am a Very Rude Person (new song, Live debut; world premiere)
Two Feet Off the Ground (unreleased Live debut)
Amok (Atoms for Peace song)
Not the News (unreleased)
Nose Grows Some
Saturdays Riff (?) (Live debut; world premiere)
Interference (First time since 2012)