The Radiohead frontman, backed by longtime producer Nigel Godrich and video artist Tarik Barri, explored a more surreal, amorphous electronic realm in this solo stop
Thom Yorke spent two hours moving both body and mind during a solo concert at a crowded Express Live indoors on Monday.
“All of this is in my head,” the Radiohead frontman sang on “Truth Ray,” coming across like a man pondering the idea that he was actually tucked away safely in bed somewhere and that all of this was somehow a dream. But even when Yorke's elliptical words referenced these subconscious realms, the booming, tactile music kept things grounded in reality.
Joined onstage by longtime producer Nigel Godrich on keys, bass, guitar and atmospherics, plus visual artist Tarik Barri, who created a live mix of abstract projections, Yorke shaped these hallucinatory flashes into beat-heavy tracks that often felt crafted in the moment, his words referencing regret-filled recollections and unseen horrors lurking around the bend.
“The ground may open up and swallow us,” Yorke offered on a set-opening “Interference” as a glowing fissure opened and grew on the projection screen behind him, threatening to consume the trio.
Both as a solo artist and within Radiohead, Yorke has been experimenting with electronic tones and textures for more than two decades. But Anima, his third solo album, released earlier this year, is the musician’s deepest dive yet into that realm, pulling from techno and the contemporary classical he incorporated in his film score for Luca Aguadagnino’s 2018 “Suspiria” remake, noticeable in the synthesized strings that haunted the background on songs such as “Truth Ray.”
On its release, Anima was paired with a long-form, three-song Netflix video by director Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Yorke as a commuting office worker. In the opening sequence, the choreography builds off of the motions of sleepwalking commuters in dire need of coffee — a syncopated stream of heads momentarily nodding off before snapping back to attention. (In concert, the frontman’s movements were less composed and more driven by the groove, as if the music caused his body to short circuit, limbs jerking spontaneously to the sometimes-glitchy beats.)
As the Anima video progresses, though, things become further detached from reality, Yorke making his way through a dream world where the laws of physics no longer apply.
Echoes of this carried over into Express Live, with artist Barri conjuring digital sandstorms, bleeding inkblots, digital scanners and various light-emitting flying objects, leaked video footage of which would have sent Tom DeLonge rushing to publish breaking news on his alien hunting website.
The concert's waking-dream feel was purposeful. The word Anima, taken from the psychology of Carl Jung, is concerned, in part, with dream states and theories of unconsciousness. “I must be asleep,” Yorke crooned on a percussive “(Ladies & Gentlemen, Thank You for Coming).” Even early Yorke songs were swept up in this pull, such as “Harrowdown Hill,” off of the singer’s 2006 solo debut, The Eraser, which found Yorke hazily repeating the phrase, “I feel me slipping in and out of consciousness” as guitars and synths combined in a syncopated buzz that mirrored the hum of an outsized server farm.
Throughout the evening, Yorke frequently treated his voice as a textural element, muttering in deep tones and unleashing a fragile falsetto that skipped like a stone atop the mix. He also looped his vocals, creating coughs, barks and moans that swirled amid the digital mass like ghosts in the machine — a human counterpart to the sometimes icy mechanics. The dichotomy mirrored a frequent theme in Yorke’s songs, which tend to return to the isolation that a life immersed in technology and unmonitored screen time can bring about, a fraying social thread that the singer has explored since Radiohead released OK Computer in 1997. (Spoiler alert: It’s not OK.)
At times, though, Yorke’s amorphous solo compositions grew monotonous, lacking the weight, precision and craft of the best Radiohead songs. Still, there were numerous inspired musical moments, Yorke building thick clouds of buzzing locusts on “Traffic” and turning “The Clock” into a surreal, Dali-esque landscape of mutated, dripping bass and warped drums. On “Cymbal Rush,” the musicians seemingly attempted to jam every instrument onstage through a particle accelerator, breaking the sound down to a molecular level and sending it swirling around the venue. Similar digital distress shaped the loosely funky “A Brain in a Bottle,” with Yorke singing, “Think I’m gonna go to pieces now,” as squelching, extruded basslines broke off in thick, floor-shaking chunks.
Frequently, the music and images combined in unexpected ways, creating a tension and a sense of possibility that left attendees wondering which direction the three onstage collaborators might pull things next — an unpredictability that Yorke alluded to amid a haunting “Nose Grows Some.”
“I don’t know how this night will end/If I open up the door,” he sang, one hand already on the knob and nothing but possibility on the other side.