thom yorke

Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL, 4 December 2018


When exactly did Thom Yorke become the Lizard King? Certainly well before he gyrated all over the “Lotus Flower” video back in 2011 on his way to meme-ified glory. The King of Limbs album really let loose the boogie for the beloved (and recently Rock Hall-elected) UK band, previously thought so bookish and proggy, but Yorke had loosened his grip on the mike stand with the skittery beats od solo debut The Eraser in 2006, and his slithery serpentine moves were likely in motion at Radiohead gigs long before.

But though I chart my fandom back to a 1993 cassingle purchase of “Creep,” I’d somehow never managed to catch Yorke in person with Radiohead or any of his other projects to verify this, so when a close friend and Radiohead megafan offered me a seat to Yorke’s Chicago Theatre visit in early December, I knew it was not to be missed, uncertain though I was as to what form the evening would take. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, last year’s solo album he’s ostensibly touring behind, was a bit of a background-music shrug for me, though the haunting melodies and mind-sticking home-truth lyrics of The Eraser are holding up very well.

In between those two solo LPs, there was the 2013 Atoms for Peace album, his groove-driven side project band featuring Flea, Joey Waronker and Nigel Godrich, so I actually shouldn’t have been too surprised that the set rolled out at the historic venue in downtown Chicago kept us aging hipsters standing and swiveling for the entirety of the 20-song set, transforming what can be a staid, seated atmosphere into a party with Dub Yorkotic Sound System.

Yorke moved between keys/synth/sampler setup and guitar while longtime collaborator, Atoms for Peace bandmate, and Radiohead producer Godrich (great to finally put face to name) operated everything else, a few times even ranging across the stage mid-song to trigger an effect behind Thom’s entranced dancing. The third member of the onstage team was Tarik Barri, who manipulated visual projections organically and instantly onto four panels behind them to coincide with songs’ peaks and swells, making for trippy fun and intensifying our immersion into the 4-D space-bass of the tunes.

Without much banter and breaks, Yorke and Godrich kept things propulsive, like a high-end DJ set enhanced by gorgeous, ethereal vocals; the funky uncle on stage and in my own body bumping throughout a series of songs that included Boxes, old Eraser and Atoms for Peace favorites, and a few unreleased jams as well. Superfan setlist-watchers were surely thrilled by encore opener “Reckoner” from Radiohead’s In Rainbows, as well as acoustic closer “Unmade” from his score to Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake. (The latter has been alternated on this tour with “Suspirium,” which has been shortlisted for a possible Oscar nomination and inevitable loss to a Mary Poppins song.)

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from this reticent rock legend at a two-musician show in an ornate theatre setting, but when Yorke sang the opening boop-be-boops from Atoms single “Default” to signal its start, before the body cavity-rattling bass dropped for one final ecstatic shaking of limbs, I knew I’d never forget this night.

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 (Atoms for Peace)
Not the News
Truth Ray

Reckoner (Radiohead)
The Axe
Atoms for Peace
Default (Atoms for Peace)

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