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Thom Yorke fills the Northrop with fitful electronic elegance

Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke Associated Press

You know a musician has faith in his audience when he’s comfortable playing seven unreleased tracks in a 20-song set.

But Thom Yorke's bond with his fans is strong, and he trusted that we would follow along. Yorke finally returned to Minneapolis last night, after a 21-year absence, as he brought his Tomorrow's Modern Boxes Tour to a sold-out Northrop on Thursday night. He was joined by his longtime collaborator/producer Nigel Godrich and audiovisual artist Tarik Barri, whose films illuminated the two-hour performance.

Yorke threaded elements of his electronic influences—Aphex Twin to Autechre, Burial to Four Tet—throughout the dynamic performance. The drum & bass, jungle, and dubstep sounds that have occupied the fringes of Radiohead's music for years were allowed to fully blossom, and Yorke gleefully danced to his tracks’ towering beats.

The set's multi-layered sound filled the room, with the moodier quiet moments and exultant, bass-driven high points both sounding exquisite and massive. Yorke bounced from guitar to bass to keys when he wasn't behind the decks manipulating the tracks, and Godrich added whatever the track required. Barri's films were an integral component of the performance, his color-drenched images filling the five large screens behind the band as though Kandinsky, Pollock, or Miro had discovered Photoshop.

In addition to the unreleased material, the set drew equally from both of Yorke's two solo records, The Eraser and Tomorrow's Modern Boxes. He also dipped into his recent soundtrack for Suspiria during the second encore, explaining that director Luca Guadagnino "asked me to write something sweet over an exploding head. I didn't bat an eyelid. This is it." As Yorke performed a gorgeous version of "Unmade" alone on piano, the stage was slowly bathed in all pink.

Yorke chided the audience for immediately sitting down after greeting him with a standing ovation at the start of the set,:"Don't sit down for Christ's sake. OK, sit down for this one, stand up later." And after a slow-burning "Interference" started the show, the intimate crowd of 2,600 did as they were told and rose for the churning beats of "A Brain in a Bottle." This was a rock show, after all, despite all the electronic bells and whistles.

The anguish, heartbreak, and loneliness that courses through much of Yorke's solo work was offset by Barri's films as well as the tight creative camaraderie between the musicians. Godrich has been figuring out how to capture the elusive sounds running through Yorke’s mind since he engineered The Bends and produced OK Computer, so he instinctively knows what direction Yorke wants to take a song, and what layers needed to be added. The fluid interplay between the two musicians gave the set both urgency and elegance.

The Eraser material sounded especially sublime, as more robust arrangements added life to "Black Swan," "Cymbal Rush," and "The Clock." Yorke played keys on a glorious version of "Cymbal Rush," which featured Kid A-like digital images of an avalanche that gradually transformed into Dante's Inferno, as the track took us from the peaks of the Himalayas to the pits of hell.

The set frequently invoked the work of Radiohead/Yorke's longtime illustrator/artist Stanley Donwood's work, especially with the smoky black cityscapes that formed during "Two Feet Off the Ground." The images were like fluid Rorschach tests scattered like ashes to the wind as soon as the beat kicked in.

The performance never allowed you to stay in one place for too long, with Yorke and company keeping us all unsettled both sonically and visually. A series of adventurous but not fully formed unreleased tracks did bog the affair down some, but then propulsive versions of "Traffic" and "Twist" (from Rag & Bone's 2018 Fall collection promotional film) closed the main set on a high.

For the encores, Yorke dusted off "Harrowdown Hill" for only the second time since 2015. (The first was the night before, in Milwaukee). "Atoms for Peace" and "Default" both pulsed with urgency, the pleas of "No more talk about the old days/It's time for something great" sounding more timely than ever.

"Thank you for coming out tonight in the freezing cold," Yorke said affectionately at the end of his set. Now if he can just convince the rest of his Radiohead bandmates to join him next time, all will be forgiven.

A note on the opener: Cellist Oliver Coates eased everyone into the evening. "My job is to warm you up," he joked, and the room was indeed warm and receptive to his blend of classical and modern sounds. "I'm interested in cosmic music coming back," Coates announced proudly, and there was clearly something quite celestial about his sound, a blend of Brian Eno's soundscapes and Pablo Casal's elegance. The 40-minute opening set that set the stage perfectly for the headliner, while also making it clear why Thom Yorke tapped Coates to open the entire 19-date U.S. tour.

Setlist

Interference
A Brain in a Bottle
Impossible Knots
Black Swan
I Am a Very Rude Person
Pink Section
Nose Grows Some
Cymbal Rush
The Clock
Two Feet Off the Ground
Amok
Not the News
Truth Ray
Traffic
Twist

Encore
Harrowdown Hill
The Axe
Atoms For Peace
Default

Second Encore
Unmade