Radiohead fills huge arenas like TD Garden — where the British group played two nights this past summer – with largely abstract, atmospheric sounds and visuals. So perhaps there should be no surprise that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke explores even more obtuse and mysterious soundscapes in his solo work.
Part of that is simply Yorke’s preferred medium of electronic music, something that Radiohead has incorporated to wider acceptance this millennium. Yet he dispenses with live drums – and quite often guitars – in the live mix of his concerts. Three podiums anchored the stage at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on Saturday. Yorke touched base at one workstation of knobs and wires, bookended by a similar setup for Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich — who, like Yorke, also played some bass and guitar — and visual artist Tarik Barri, who balanced his band mates’ cool, mechanical rhythms and dark sonic icing with live-triggered eye candy on a backing five-panel screen.
Yorke still mixed it up from the outset, playing stage-front electric piano to sing the melancholy “Interference,” then donning an electric guitar for “A Brain in a Bottle,” before roving free with his microphone to exhort the audience in the aptly named “Impossible Knots.” The newer “I Am a Very Rude Person” built layers from a static ping-pong beat to Godrich’s poking bass line to Yorke’s spacey guitar arpeggios. Electronics still dominated the sound, and Yorke occasionally cloaked his vocals in effects as well. Particularly for strict Radiohead fans with unfulfilled hopes of hearing anything from that band’s more rocking and melodic catalog, oblique and dissonant tracks from Yorke’s solo albums began to blur across the 90-minute set’s mid-section.
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke played the Wang on Nov. 24.
Nonetheless, two elements continued to captivate. One was Yorke’s idiosyncratic dance moves. He regularly brought a more physical presence to the pulsing music, shifting from insular jitteriness to outward abandon, bouncing and high-stepping in partial circles like a dancehall toaster to “Not the News.” If Yorke wasn’t so tousled and avant-garde in approach — and likely too old to crack the electro-pop market at age 50, he might even stand out as one of rock’s more sensual performers.
But the visuals provided a more constant form of mesmerizing engagement. Barri worked with a stage-wide backdrop that suggested your wildest dreams of box-store HD TV demonstrations, only writ large in colorful, oft-geometric flows. For “Two Feet Off the Ground,” the musicians played in silhouette against white screens while a single line drew itself into an evolving, organism-like blob. Projections from the back of the theater often expanded to the Wang’s ornate stage-side walls and across the back of fans’ heads in the orchestra section, making those surfaces seem like kinetic, textured slopes pitched into the stage.
That focus disappeared for a second encore where Yorke returned alone to the electric piano and debuted “Suspirium,” from his new soundtrack to Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the ’70s horror movie “Suspiria” (oddly enough, the original film was screened the next night at the Coolidge Corner Theatre with the Italian prog-rock band Goblin reprising its own soundtrack live). “Is the darkness ours to take?” Yorke sang over a creeping piano pattern. “Bathed in lightness, bathed in heat.” But rather than creep offstage on such a somber note, Yorke motioned for his bandmates to join him in a smiling bow, showing the heart behind their heady.