Live Recap: The Smile (Radiohead’s Thom Yorke/Jonny Greenwood & Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner) Introduce Themselves with Three Live Gigs in 12 Hours


Emily HerringCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

The Smile at Magazine, London January 29 and 30, 2022 — reviewed by Emily Herring

At the end of January, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood launched their new band The Smile with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. In a generous effort to cater to as many time zones as possible, the trio played three concerts in just over twelve hours. A handful of lucky Londoners attended the performances in person, while a larger portion of the global audience watched the gigs via live stream (and in a few select cinemas). 

This exciting new project might not have come about without the imposed slowdown of the pandemic. The staging of the shows cleverly nodded to the locked-down environments in which the songs were conceived: the three multi-instrumentalists faced each other on living room rugs inside a circular cage of luminous bars, with cameras zooming in and out around them (Greenwood even left his shoes backstage). But the experience was far from isolating. For those in the room, it felt like some of the vital connections lost over the past two years were being rebuilt there and then. 

Extremely dedicated fans like myself (some might say downright obsessive) who attended more than one show were able to note subtle but interesting differences between performances. The first time around, the performance carried the tension of two years away from audiences. By the next morning, the energy felt more laid back, and the trio made up for a lack of sleep with a relaxed and, at moments, looser set.  

Many of Yorke’s lyrics pointed towards the darkness of our times with an uncharacteristic optimism. In the floaty “Free in the Knowledge,” he reassures us that “one day this will end,” as “this is just a bad moment.” Elsewhere though, the message of hope fades and a familiar anxious and paranoid vibe emerges. But there is also a joyful, raw anger, like in the guitar heavy single “You Will Never Work in Television Again,” some of which we suspect is directed at a certain blonde UK prime minister. 

As ever with Yorke and Co., there is no point in trying to confine the sound to a well-defined genre. The songs are infused with an eclectic mix of influences, ranging from post-punk to jazzy rhythms and electronic beats. Yorke and Greenwood have built a career on surprising themselves (and by extension their fans) by consistently refusing to conform to any work routine, or to any preconceived idea of what they should sound like. The Smile is no different. Of course, almost inevitably, the new material is evocative of Radiohead’s sensibilities, but there is a novel energy to this venture that seems much more spontaneous and informal than anything Radiohead has ever done.

There is no doubt something liberating about no longer being weighed down by the heavy expectations of the Radiohead machine.

And it also seems that Thom and Jonny both just really wanted to play bass!

The Smile at Magazine, London (Photo: Wunmi Onibudo)

The Smile at Magazine, London (Photo: Wunmi Onibudo)

Throughout the gigs, they constantly swapped instruments, alternating between guitars, bass, synth, and harp, sometimes all at once (you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen Jonny Greenwood play the piano and the harp at the same time). Skinner, a jazz drummer at heart, masterfully provides the syncopated structure for this whole thing to breathe. With long-term Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich behind the wheel, and Greenwood’s orchestral abilities, The Smile’s first studio album promises to be exceptional.

It is hard to anticipate what this all means for Radiohead. At the end of the first gig, Yorke hinted that new The Smile songs might already be in the making which suggests that Radiohead’s next album, if there ever is one, exists only in a distant future.

But maybe that’s alright. In the two or so years since we became acquainted with the coronavirus and its lockdowns and cancelled plans, there has been a dearth of joy and spontaneity. In three short gigs, The Smile have rectified that. 

Catch the Smile on tour in Europe starting in May and stay tuned for more from the project.

Set lists from the three shows:

#1 (8PM GMT on Saturday 29th)
Pana-vision
The Smoke
Speech Bubbles
Thin Thing
Open The Floodgates
Free In The Knowledge
A Hairdryer
Waving A White Flag
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
Skrting On The Surface
The Same
The Opposite
You Will Never Work In Television Again
Encore:
Just Eyes And Mouth
#2 (1AM GMT on Sunday 30th)
Pana-vision
The Smoke
Speech Bubbles
Thin Thing
Open The Floodgates
Free In The Knowledge
A Hairdryer
Waving A White Flag
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
Skrting On The Surface
The Same
The Opposite
You Will Never Work In Television Again
Encore:
Just Eyes And Mouth
It’s Different for Girls (Joe Jackson Cover)
#3 (11AM GMT on Sunday 30th)
Pana-vision
The Smoke
Speech Bubbles
Thin Thing
Open The Floodgates
Free In The Knowledge
A Hairdryer
Waving A White Flag
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
Skrting On The Surface
The SameThe Opposite
You Will Never Work In Television Again
Encore:
Just Eyes And Mouth
It’s Different for Girls (Joe Jackson Cover)



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