Thom Yorke loves the Bay Area more than he loves Los Angeles, maybe more than he loves any other area of this country. Yes, this is a bold claim, but if you were one of the lucky souls that attended his solo show at Oakland’s Fox Theater on December 14th, then you know exactly why a wild claim like this has merit. For those who were not fortunate enough to experience this rare and momentous live musical event, hopefully this review will suffice as evidential support.
Accompanied by longtime collaborator and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, as well as visual artist Tarik Barri, Yorke’s mini-tour of solo performances in support of a reissue of his solo LP Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014) began at the Fonda Theater in LA, just two days prior to his Oakland show. Three years removed from that last official solo release, fans likely didn’t know what to expect from a Thom Yorke set in 2017. But even if they checked his setlist at the Fonda, fans couldn’t foresee the concert that awaited them as they walked into the Fox two nights later; when Thom Yorke is involved, one should always expect the unexpected.
Yorke opened the show with tracks off of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, “Interference” and “A Brain in a Bottle.” He then danced, and I use the word ‘danced’ loosely because Yorke’s repertoire of moves can best be compared to how an alien would interpret a human dancing, his way through a couple of new songs “I Am a Very Rude Person” and “Saturdays,” and sent the audience on a trip through the 2000s with performances of the titular track “Amok” from the studio album of his side project, Atoms for Peace, and “Cymbal Rush” and “The Clock” from his first solo release The Eraser (2006). In tandem with Godrich’s crisp and smooth flowing beats and Barri’s juxtaposition of minimalistic and ornate visuals, Thom Yorke delivered a sonically and visually stimulating performance. And as anticipated, he performed the same setlist from the LA show, just in a different order. The crowd was more than content with what was provided in the confines of Thom’s regular set, but of course cheered and stomped for an encore. This is where the promise I made at the beginning of this article about Thom and the Bay earn their keep.
A very grateful Yorke and company walked back on stage and launched right into what was expected to be their one song encore with “Guess Again!” also from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. It was almost as if the song title was a message to the audience, because instead of taking a bow, Yorke turned his back to the audience and picked up a bass guitar and began playing “Black Swan”, which was not played at the LA show. About 30 seconds into the song, Yorke signaled Godrich to cut the track so he could solidify his bassline. Then they ran the track from the beginning, blessing the audience with more time in his celestial presence. But Yorke wasn’t quite finished with the Oakland crowd. He then played “Atoms for Peace,” and if one thought it couldn’t possibly get any more mind-blowing, Yorke beautifully wrapped up the night with another surprise Atoms for Peace track, “Default”, leaving the audience with blissfully dry throats and racing heartbeats.
Now, maybe Oakland simply lucked out with these four extra songs. Maybe Yorke needed to get in more practice before he headed to the Day for Night festival. But that doesn’t change the fact that every time he comes through the Bay Area, the often stoic Yorke can’t seem to stop smiling and dancing. Take the viral video of Yorke jamming to “Myxomatosis”, which someone brilliantly changed to Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”, at Berkeley’s Greek Theater in April of 2017 for another example. There’s love in the air that hangs between Thom Yorke and his Bay Area fanbase. It’s palpable, it’s electrifying, and it’s most definitely mutual.
Written by Rebekah Gonzalez