October 30 2015
Watching Thom Yorke prance around in front of hypnotic visuals in a hip-gyrating, man-bun festooned frenzy is not just a menacing image of a bloke with too many emotions expressing himself with too many bits of AV equipment; it’s an oddly poignant lesson in how life never ever stops being a challenge – no matter who you are, how old you are and even how famous you are.
Yorke is dealing with the emotional fallout of latter-day life challenges. In August this year he made public that he was separating from his wife of 23 years, Rachel Owen. At Pitchfork Paris, he’s replacing Björk, who cancelled her original headline slot at the festival because performing her most recent album ‘Vulnicura’ reminded her too much of her traumatic separation from long-term partner Matthew Barney. So as the Icelandic musician takes time out from touring to overcome her personal struggles, Yorke has made the opposite move, reportedly taking himself on tour to give his ex-partner and kids back home in Oxfordshire some time and space to move forward.
Performing with producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, the show leans heavily on material from current album ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’, with a few reworked moments thrown in from ‘The Eraser’ and ‘AMOK’ for good measure. Although a step up from the not-too-hotly received surprise show he performed at Latitude earlier this year, the pace oscillates erratically between frenetic and feeble, the two modes of performance being linked by experimental noodling and Yorke’s trademark wail, which at times descends so deep into unintelligible gurgle, you wonder if he’s saying anything meaningful or just reading out the instructions from his new Meccano set in a silly voice.
Yet when it cuts, it cuts deep, as on the climatic ‘Cymbal Cut’. In these moments, it’s like looking down the telescope of Yorke’s personal and musical trajectory, and seeing our own journey as fans reflected back at us from the far end. Those that were young enough when Radiohead were at their peak are now at an age where they too may be experiencing the kind of mid-life separations that our middle-aged indie royalty are unwittingly letting define global festival line ups. True, the show may not soar as cleanly and clearly as, say, Radiohead’s greatest hits, but in its meandering vulnerability and Yorke’s singularly honest self-expression, it’s a fitting reminder that we’ve all been on some kind of journey to get to where we are, and for all of us it’s a journey that’s all too human – imperfections included.
Thom Yorke played:
‘A Brain In A Bottle’
‘Not The News’
‘Nose Grows Some’