Radiohead’s Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood are joined by drummer Tom Skinner who brings elements of jazz to the trio that is The Smile. Alex Cropper sees them supporting their critically applauded debut album A Light for Attracting Attention live at the Manchester Academy, bringing us his live review and photos.
There is a Smile of Love
And there is a Smile of Deceit
And there is a Smile of Smiles
In which these two Smiles meet
Yorke and co approach the stage to a wall of applause, wasting no time they get right to the point with album opener The Same, a track that has all the touchstones of a Radiohead song; tender lyrics with undertones of politically charged themes. New kid on the block Tom Skinner shines on the second song The Opposite with some serious rhythm. Following this we get the punk rocker of a song, You Will Never Work in Television Again, this song is their middle finger. The sense of energy generated so far is overwhelming, it’s evident for all to see that Yorke is having a blast. Pulling faces to the crowd in a very mischievous way, baiting the crowd to chant along in parts. This is a boy with all of his toys.
Thin Thing and A Hairdryer try to deliver such a thing as controlled chaos with energetic performances and complex time signatures. The band are fully in control but not afraid to be swept up in their creation. Yorke’s vocals are incredible on this tour, from gnashing like a punk rocker to draping sorrowful tones over politically sharp yet somewhat ambiguous lyrics. Leaving the audience members with a sense of “is he saying what I think he is?”
Seeing Thom Yorke play bass for The Smoke harkens back to comments from Radiohead in their early days, Jonny not being able to play bass was met with ‘just attack it’ and since then he’s attacked pretty much every instrument known to man. It’s nice to see some things don’t change. Thom taking the lead on The Smoke and laying down his most sexiest moment on track with this bassline. There is such a groove to it, signified by a bopping audience.
There is also a great sense of hope in the song writing, highlighted in the Neil Young-esq Free in the Knowledge, starting with a traditional folk riff and crescendo-ing into a full on ballad for the ages. It’s hard not to get swept up and sing along. A real moment of beauty and probably the highlight of the night. For the Radiohead faithful it’s refreshing to see Yorke with an acoustic guitar in hand and more importantly delivering such a melodic song, if Fake Plastic Trees had a wiser, battle worn brother, it would be this song. In terms of song writing it’s a lot more direct with a heart on sleeve element to it.
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings also offers a sense of hope. A very self reflective comment on how tough times have been for people but you just never know what’s coming. Skirting on the Surface is a beautifully constructed meditation on the fragility of life and just how precious/beautiful it can be. Thom Yorke points and swirls his finger next to his head whilst singing the line “When we realize that we are broke, and nothing mends, we can drop under the surface” adds gravity to the song and acknowledges the daily battles of mental health. All of this is accompanied by Greenwood and Skinner gorgeously riffing along with one another. It is clear to see the balance within The Smile, it’s almost as if they’re trying to reach some transcended level amongst the chaos.
The band deliver all of their material tonight in a sprawling set that ebbs and flows and see’s Yorke switch between piano, keyboards bass and guitars whilst Greenwood alternates between synthesisers and guitar, with a harp thrown in for good measure and what we’ve become to expect from the award winning composer. He looks reinvigorated here, like he’s almost missed rhythmic riffs and moments of soloing with his signature swinging hairdo covering his face for the majority of the show. Skinner has some genuine stand out moments with his drumming prowess, adding a new dynamic to Yorke and Greenwood’s claustrophobic ambient sounds. The musicianship is so admirable. These guys have been there and done it all, yet continue to challenge and push themselves into the unknown.
The band also debut new songs that have been written on the road whilst touring, surely indicating there is more to come in the future and they’re loving the new lease of life they’ve found in The Smile. Aren’t we all?
1. The Same
2. The Opposite
3. You Will Never Work in Television Again
6. Speech Bubbles
7. Thin Thing
8. Bodies Laughing
9. Open the Floodgates
10. Free in the Knowledge
11. A Hairdryer
12. Waving a White Flag
13. We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
14. Skirting on the Surface
15. Just Eyes and Mouth
16. Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses