Radiohead’s Yorke remarkable in solo show at the Riverside
Thom Yorke’s Riverside Theater show in Milwaukee Wednesday wasn’t just a chance to see the Radiohead frontman in a more intimate setting. It was a chance to see him in Milwaukee, period.
Yorke’s never been here as a solo performer, and the last time Radiohead was in these parts was 15 years ago, and that was at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy.
You might think Wednesday’s soldout show was a case of neglected fans settling for a compromise: the dreaded solo vanity project. And on paper, there were points to make your case.
Across a two-hour set, Yorke didn’t play a single Radiohead song. On top of that, he played six songs that haven’t been released.
But you wouldn’t be more wrong. Minus the other men of Radiohead, and Radiohead’s songs, Yorke’s set Wednesday nevertheless resembled the absorbing aura, and ultimately the impact, that make his main band’s gigs so beguiling.
Radiohead remains one of the most adventurous arena rock bands of all time. Yorke evoked a similar textural dexterity and wanderer’s spirit for Wednesday’s electronic set, whether he was conjuring alien yet organic beats behind a synthesizer with Radiohead’s go-to producer Nigel Godrich by his side, or supplying spry live guitar riffs to “A Brain in a Bottle,” a heady club banger fit for an alternate universe.
Naturally, Yorke’s ethereal croon was his greatest instrument Wednesday. It didn’t really matter that there likely wasn’t a person in a crowd of 2,500 who had never heard unreleased songs like “I Am a Very Rude Person” before. Yorke’s voice was so expressive, so otherworldly yet so fragile, every moment he sang was magnetic.
Yorke wasn’t stuck in his own head Wednesday, despite the cerebral solo material. He was in arena-ready performance mode, supplying jubilant, jittery head bops and slinky hip sways throughout the night. He playfully feigned terror when a giant red circle dominated the five backing screens on the stage near the end of “Black Swan,” and he impishly pursed his lips near the end of “Atoms for Peace.”
Complementing Yorke’s theatrics were projected animated visuals that artist Tarik Barri created live onstage with his laptop. Like the music, they were abstract and bold, a series of mutating shapes, colors and tones.
Sights and sounds reached their crescendo at the perfect moment for encore finale “Default,” a song from Yorke’s Atoms for Peace side project with Godrich and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. But as Yorke twitched under strobe lights, and Godrich’s beats and Barri’s visuals intensified, something strange suddenly happened. Godrich’s music became muffled, like the speakers had been dropped in Lake Michigan, while Barri’s visuals slowed, like they were in suspended animation.
Then Yorke’s voice, in its most vulnerable tone of the night, floated over a hushed room.
“The will is strong, but the flesh is weak,” he sang. “I guess that’s it. I’ve made my bed and I’m lying in it.”
Milwaukee’s Radiohead fans may not have been able to see the band in town for ages. But that was the sort of special, naked moment they wouldn’t have been able to see anywhere else.
Radiohead's Thom Yorke performs at the Riverside Theater on Wednesday. More photos at