Two songs into his show at the Kennedy Center on Nov. 30, Thom Yorke compelled the seated audience to get up and dance. “I know this is a classical venue,” the Radiohead frontman said. “But I’m afraid this is a little bit different.”
Fans expecting something akin to a Radiohead concert, or Yorke’s similarly full-sized band Atoms for Peace, were in for something different, indeed.
Accompanied by longtime producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke worked through his minimalist, beat-driven solo output — particularly his 2014 sophomore album “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” — while artist Tarik Barri created trippy visuals that moved to the music. At times, the nearly two-hour show felt like one long live DJ set, as Yorke and Godrich made beats, occasionally adding live bass, guitar or piano, seamlessly moving between bass-heavy grooves. Yorke danced around in his manic way, leading the crowd as they moved with him.
For the Kennedy Center, the show felt strange — like a low-key rave in the center’s grand Concert Hall — but for Yorke, it made sense. His M.O., with Radiohead, or solo, has always been to go against the grain. Back when “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” was released, it was the first album available for sale via BitTorrent, a gambit that didn’t quite take off, or break the internet quite like Radiohead’s revolutionary name-your-own-price release for 2008’s “In Rainbows.”
The album itself is vaguely about music and technology and it’s Yorke’s most digital and electronic release to date. Visually, the show was enveloping, with Barri onstage programming images across a series of five panels. Sometimes, the very digital visuals would resemble real things: purple and blue flowerlike petals; an orange flame; waves that crashed into a psychedelic maze.
The imagery fit the music, which sometimes found Yorke and Godrich leaning too heavily on backing tracks. Things came to life, for example, when Yorke strapped on an electric guitar and took a brief solo on “I Am a Very Rude Person.”
Many of the songs Yorke performed were abstract, with little in the way of hooks or melody to grab onto. Yorke twisted and bent his distinctive falsetto — often until it was indecipherable.
It’s not surprising, then, that the biggest reactions came when Yorke played songs from his debut solo album, 2006’s “The Eraser.” Early in the set, Yorke put on the bass for “Black Swan,” a deep groove with a distinct chorus and melody. “Atoms For Peace,” played during the encore, came off like an electronic lullaby and served as the night’s best showcase for his vocal range.
Curiously, Yorke ended the night at his most human: Solo on piano, singing “Suspirium,” the lone track he performed from his recently released soundtrack to the new “Suspiria” film.
Somber and cinematic, the song was a little bit different than the rest of the show — just the way Yorke likes it.