Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR
10/22/2019

[Photo: John Gusky/KVUE]

The excitement crackled in the lobby of Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Oftentimes, concerts feel like an event, but Thom Yorke’s appearance in Portland was more like a happening for the city’s artist scene. Everyone from Peter Buck to Stephen Malkmus graced the elegant downtown concert hall to watch the Radiohead frontman strut out his electronic solo material.

The show subtitled “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” Yorke was joined onstage by producer Nigel Godrich and audiovisual artist Tarik Barr for an affair that was very different than a Radiohead show. Only on a few songs did an actual instrument appear, allowing Yorke the opportunity to impress us with his dance moves for a good portion of the performance. After kicking off with “Has Ended” from his Suspiria soundtrack, Yorke implored us to get out of our seats and dance along. Most of the audience remained standing then for the entire 21-song, two-hour set.

The stage setup was simple, a few stands for computers, some instruments resting towards the back. Behind the musicians, a giant screen for strobing images throbbed and ached along with Yorke’s songs. This was a DJ set, but not a DJ set. This was not a Radiohead set, but it still hit similar emotional crescendos. This was not the glowering, terrified Yorke who sang of paranoid androids and burning witches. In fact, the musician seemed downright gleeful to be performing for us, smiling and dancing his way across the wide expanse of mainly empty stage.

Touring in support of new album, Anima, Yorke’s show featured a good number of recent songs, supplemented by songs from debut album, The Eraser (2006) and sophomore effort, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014). If you went to this show hoping for a lot of Radiohead tunes, you would be sorely disappointed. For the rest of us, Yorke played a show that was inspiring and full of energy.

Seeing Yorke in person makes up for some of the more boring aspects of his recorded solo content. Sure, more traditional songs such as “The Clock” and “Black Swan” sound great on The Eraser, but in the live setting they gain a new life. Especially the material from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, which received pretty mixed reviews. After ending the encore with “Interference,” Yorke took a triumphant bow and bid the audience a good night.

But that wasn’t the end. Yorke returned for a second encore and introduced a song by comparing Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, bemoaning the insanity of the man who runs our country and the one who runs his. Sitting in front of a keyboard, Yorke played a haunting, nearly unadorned version of “Like Spinning Plates” from Amnesiac. Maybe it was a little reward for an audience that stuck with his solo material for nearly two hours, but it felt more like a damning indictment for the horror that hangs over the United States and Great Britain. It added a poignant end to an excellent evening, one that challenged and moved its audience to dance.

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