Thom Yorke Proves That He's Still on the Bleeding Edge

by Sid Feddema

Thom Yorke is set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. But the label has always felt insufficient to describe what he does. As capacious as the boundaries of “Rock and Roll” might be, Thom has spent a career exploding them, redefining the genre and creating new ones in his wake. His show last night at the Orpheum is all the evidence you need. Who else can serve you a sizzling club banger, glitchy electro soundscapes, Flea-backed barn-burners, and a heart-wrenching piano ballad that leaves the crowd breathless? The man who helped push “rock” into the future is still on the bleeding edge.

The setlist covered all the bases. There were gorgeous reinterpretations of favorites from his first solo-album The Eraser, and frenetic, dancey cuts from last year’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. There were at least two tracks that he’s never recorded and that I’ve never heard, but which I really, really hope find their way to a studio treatment. He called on his LA homies—bass wizard Flea and drummer Joey Waronker (REM, Beck)—to do an Atoms for Piece song that brought the house down. The Orpheum is a civilized venue with comfortable assigned seats, but they were everywhere empty; almost no one in view ever left their feet.

Though it’s Thom’s name on the marquee, and though he’s playing his solo music, it very much felt like a collaborative enterprise. Nigel Godrich was in tow, trading guitars, synths, drum machines, and whatever else they had in the garage with Thom throughout the evening, while visual artist Tarik Barri mixed stunning visuals live from the stage, which were projected behind the group on four towering screens. Thom rallied the adoring crowd with ecstatic dancing and gracious thanks, emanating affection.

It was only for the final encore that Thom was truly performing alone, as he sang a gorgeous rendition of a song from his recent score for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. But even then all his friends joined him on stage, setting down their instruments to quietly watch. They were as rapt as the rest of the audience, beaming with the sense that they were seeing something truly special.

Photographed by Nicole Busch

Written by Sid Feddema