Published Sep 28, 2019What makes Thom Yorke special isn't only his haunting songs of paranoia and alienation — it's the way he turns those bummed-out songs into joyful, communal catharsis.
His solo appearance in Toronto didn't generate quite the same excitement as last year's Radiohead gigs: he only played one night, rather than two, and Scotiabank Arena was well under capacity, with the upper bowl blocked off and a scattering of empty chairs in the lower rows.
And yet Yorke (backed by visual artist Tarik Barri and producer Nigel Godrich) pulled off the same sleight of hand that he does at any good Radiohead show, drawing the arena together with a seemingly incongruous mix of giddy flamboyance and solemn beauty.
The early part of the set was surprisingly low on material from this year's ANIMA, as he and his collaborators wove together a dense tapestry of beats and loops on some selections from 2014's Tomorrow's Modern Boxes. Yorke also showed off some impressive bass grooves on a couple of tracks from 2006's The Eraser. These had the continuous flow of a DJ set, with playful rhythms and skewed melodies that weren't beholden to the studio versions.
The stage was decorated a bit like a gothic Apple Store, with a fashionably minimalist setup consisting of a couple of tables with computers and glowing gear. This particular Apple Store featured Yorke as its Genius, as he prowled the wide open space wearing baggy black pants that were far too short and exposed several inches of white sock at the ankle.
He was in full "Lotus Flower" mode — that is, dancing with feverish abandon whenever the rhythms picked up. He pranced cheekily at the front of the stage, leering at the crowd and coaxing cheers with the wave of his arms. Behind him, a wide semi-circle of screens set a hypnotic, futuristic tone with CGI animations.
The back half of the two-hour set was packed with ANIMA standouts — notably a spellbinding encore rendition of "Dawn Chorus," which was performed as a stark piano ballad (in contrast to the electronic studio take). He closed the first encore with a sublime version of Atoms for Peace's "Default," its chorus synth swells bringing the attentive crowd to its feet in blissed-out reverie.
That would have been a completely satisfying finale, but Yorke returned for a second encore to perform his Suspiria soundtrack ballad "Suspirium." After a night full of herky-jerky beats and giddy dancing, this ended the night with a reminder that the Radiohead singer is still spooky as hell when he wants to be.