Photos and Words by Max Stewart
Thom Yorke is an enigmatic figure that really redefined what a modern-day ‘rock’ musician can be. After releasing the internationally successful and critically-acclaimed OK Computer in 1997, Radiohead made a stylistic left turn with Kid A, a trailblazing record that featured more electronic instrumentation and less straightforward, verse-chorus-verse and guitar driven themes. As the band entered the 21st century, their music has continued to evolve at each album release into a completely genreless and commercially-successful entity. What has always drawn me to the band was not only the unique musicianship and non-linear song structure (“Everything in Its Right Place” continues to blow my mind at every listen), but the endearing power of Thom Yorke’s vocals. Powerful but not overbearing. Full of vibrato and melody but never tacky. Yorke’s voice inspired a myriad of copycats in style, but none have come close.
Yorke’s solo contributions have proven that his signature vocal touch can be moving in any musical format. Yorke is currently performing with longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and Tarik Barri throughout North America, promoting his strong latest release, Anima. The album was well-represented throughout his performance at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, along with 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Yorke even gave fans the first solo rendition of the Radiohead song “Like Spinning Plates” from Amnesiac since 2010. It is captivating watching Yorke so inspired and excited among his many musical toys on stage: dancing giddily between the electronic equipment, the keyboard, or singing with a guitar in hand. Matched with the jaw-dropping visuals throughout the show, the performance is truly a cathartic experience.
As Yorke performed on the eve of his 51st birthday on an October Sunday evening, the Atlanta crowd was not going to let the humble singer leave town without a celebration. During the encore, Yorke was greeted with cheers of “Happy Birthday” and dozens of fans waited hours after the show to deliver a huge birthday banner to the singer as he boarded the tour bus. One such fan actually had traveled all the way from Denver to give him an inspiring letter. The man’s daughter is handicapped and Yorke’s music was the only music that she seemed to react positively to. As he showed a video of his daughter dancing while listening to In Rainbows as many supportive fans watched along, it was abundantly clear that Yorke’s music has had an impact beyond what we can even imagine.