The evening opens with Interference in which the song’s narrator dejectedly proclaims “I don’t have the right / to interfere”. But Thom Yorke has just done exactly that. Tonight he strips away some of that post millennial angst that he and Radiohead so often get labelled with, instead amplifying the joyously danceable potential found within his solo work.
Dressed in what look like expensive yoga sweats, Yorke is almost unrecognisable. Hopping from modular synth to guitar then back to synth like a baby goat and posing for crowd photos from the front of stage, it’s another liberation from the hackneyed millionaire ‘self-important rock star’ trope. There is no ego present and this is definitely not a rock show – it’s billed as a “live mix” – even if he does occasionally strap on his guitar and perform little funk outs. The stage is bathed in corrupting digital swirls and results in the infamous circular venue feeling more like the tent at an early ’90s rave.
The beats as such are chunky, dubby and reassuringly old fashioned. This isn’t some cut-up Arca-ish postmodern mash-up, this is a party. Lyrics are whispered, muddied and mumbled, and for tonight they’re not to be decoded and analysed. Yes, they probably say something deeply poignant about phosphorescent lamps and vacuum bags or some such, but Yorke seems less concerned with emoting the human condition and more with sustaining a feeling, with letting go of restrictions and chains.
Heavy on the loop pedal, fragments of speech appear and dissolve and It feels less like a rock star ‘performance’ and more like going round to a friend’s place after the pub and hearing him enthuse about records he loves from his teenage years, never quite allowing you the chance to embrace the whole piece. Listen to this bit from Amok, and what about this section of Cymbal Rush… but rather than feel disjointed, it’s seemless and enthusiastic. Yorke has found the granular soul in what he does and is challenging us to join in the celebration. When Kid A happened an impression was given that Yorke and his bandmates has suddenly discovered the stuff that Warp Records had been putting out and were copying it to be cool but in fact, in their earliest incarnation Yorke had been adding dance elements.
Billed as the Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes tour, this jaunty little palette cleanser seems to arrive at a strange point in his career. Not only did the titular album come out four years ago, an aeon in the digital age, but Yorke and super producer Nigel Godrich, who is also present and bouncing around almost as much, toured it at the time to much applause. With his much anticipated first commissioned soundtrack – for Luca Guadagnino’s forthcoming Suspiria reimagining – it’s a minor disappointment that we didn’t get to hear any of that here.
The name Radiohead originally comes from a track by seminal ’70s art rockers Talking Heads, one of Yorke’s favourites, and both acts have followed subliminally similar trajectories. Dorky and earnest at the start of their respective careers, with a quirky hit single about sociopaths that threaten to typecast them, they both hire the hippest producer of the era for a retooling and by their fourth albums have incorporated poly rhythms, and a politically infused graphic edge to the mix. However, where the paths diverge is that unlike David Byrne, it doesn’t seem as if Thom Yorke wants to fly the nest anytime soon.
There’s a tender moment when he dedicates the second and final encore, Radiohead’s unused James Bond theme Spectre, to bandmates Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway, who are here watching the proceedings. A reaffirmation perhaps of his commitment to them and a reassurance to fans of normal service being resumed shortly, Yorke seems happy for now to remain in light.