Jei-Rynn: When Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes was first released in 2014, I didn’t think much of it. The album was, in essence, what fans had come to expect of Thom Yorke’s music during this era; a focus on rhythm and electronic textures under Thom’s signature, haunting vocal, much like in The King of Limbs, the Radiohead album preceding this release. As a depressed college student at the time, albums from Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Joy Division, and a slew of other melancholic artists served as my soundtrack, but Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes wasn’t one of them.
Fast forward to 2018, now out of college, I rediscovered the album during another difficult period, and it cultivated a whole new appreciation for Yorke’s solo material. Thom’s music has always been a light in the dark to me; a source of empathy in the emotionally challenging moments. Radiohead’s 2016 effort A Moon Shaped Pool was a great comfort in college, and it gave perspective to Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, which seemed to touch upon related themes.
In 2019, as if my rediscovery of the album had summoned it, Thom embarked on the Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes tour in support of his latest effort, Anima. I was lucky to see him perform on the first night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
He began the set with a meditative rendition of ‘Interference’ from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, with Thom on keyboard for the track. Other songs, like ‘Black Swan’, saw Thom on bass, while a powerful version of ‘A Brain in a Bottle’ played in the encore incorporated rhythmic, plucked guitar parts. Thom’s versatility as a musician, and as a songwriter, were clear. Also on the stage was another versatile talent, Nigel Godrich, Radiohead and Yorke’s longtime producer, who I had briefly met once at a live performance of the soundtrack of the film There Will Be Blood featuring Jonny Greenwood (his only suggestion to me as a younger musician was to “do it if you love it”).
Performed live, tracks like ‘Traffic’ and ‘Twist’ were in full force; danceable and dystopian, coupled with stunning, electric visuals by Tarik Barri. Some of my favorite moments of the show were the tender ones. The cheeky ’Nose Grows Some’, which came earlier in the set than expected, was beautifully melancholic. When he played the fan favorite ‘Dawn Chorus’, a moving ballad played on piano, the world seemed to stop for a second. Thom finished the set with another piano ballad, ’Daily Battles’, a fitting lullaby to end the night.
As a performer, Thom is magnetic. His dancing is singular, and on songs like ‘Truth Ray’, he certainly appeared to enter a zone, seeming almost possessed in moments. Throughout the performance I was struck by the quality of Thom’s vocal delivery. I had seen Radiohead perform before in noisy festival settings, but tonight at the Greek, the crowd was often quiet and attentive. We were in awe. I was reminded firsthand why Yorke is such a legend.
The performance is now a fond memory of a “pre-Covid” world, which we would enter just a few months later. Thom’s music continues to speak to me, through the good and bad.
Jei-Rynn Revisits Thom Yorke Joy: Jei-Rynn’s new single and video “Screaming Inside” is out now.