Thom Yorke performs first San Diego show in a decade

by Spencer White, Staff Writer

Thom Yorke’s Dec. 17 performance at the Observatory in North Park sold out instantly, and he did not disappoint his eager fans.

Yorke, famous for his work as the frontman for critically acclaimed rock experimentalists Radiohead, toured this year in support of his solo release “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” which originally came out in 2014, the same day it was announced on BitTorrent in an effort to combat streaming services like Spotify.

Yorke played as part of a trio with longtime producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri, who created live visuals that played throughout the concert. .

The show began with cellist Oliver Coates, who previously collaborated with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood on both of his scores for Paul Thomas Anderson films “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master.” Coates also collaborated with Radiohead on its 2016 record “A Moon Shaped Pool.”

Coates spoke to the audience about being from Stoke, England and the raving culture he took part of in the early ‘90s, an influence which permeated through his music.

The heaviest moments came when Coates would pick up his cello, bending the sound to create powerful distortion that mimicked the sound of an electric guitar, wailing throughout the venue.

Yorke started his set with a rhythm and flow that entranced the crowd. On stage, Yorke and Godrich operated modular synths and drum pads, opening the set with a new song and songs from “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.”

The energy really broke through when Yorke started singing “Black Swan” off of his first solo album, “The Eraser.” The chugging bassline paired with Yorke’s avant-garde lyrics like, “You cannot kick start a dead horse / You just crush yourself and walk away / I don’t care what the future holds / Cause I’m right here and I’m today.”

Yorke also manipulated his vocals throughout the show, remixing songs on the fly with ease.

At times, the show was very ambient, only to suddenly explode with color, claps and basslines that saturated the air. The live visuals done by Barri varied from song to song — bright and vivid colors for some, while others were more dreary black with white images akin to longtime collaborator Stanley Donwood’s art that Yorke has been known for over the years, with some grid-like patterns similar to the album art for “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.”

Yorke had minimal interactions with the crowd, only stopping songs to the audience, approaching the fans at the barricade occasionally.

The show concluded with two encores. The first included “Atoms for Peace” and “Default,” which were highlights of the night, along with other songs from “Atoms for Peace” and Yorke’s side project with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

The second encore featured a solo piano performance from Yorke, performing the song “Suspirium” from the movie “Suspiria,” a remake of a classic horror film Yorke wrote the score for this year.

Yorke, who last performed in San Diego with Radiohead in 2008 at the then Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, gave the audience a night they will not soon forget. Hopefully, it will not be another 10 years until San Diego gets another taste of the prolific singer.