The Smile | “Nobody gets my jokes” – Thom Yorke

Uncategorized July 13, 2022

The Smile | “Nobody gets my jokes” – Thom Yorke

Radiohead side project “The Smile” plays in Vienna during their highly anticipated debut album tour.

To say that Radiohead is one of the most influential rock bands of all time wouldn’t be far from the truth. Forming as a high school band in a small town outside Oxford, England in 1985, they have become one of the most recognized and critically acclaimed alternative rock acts in history with a vast discography and albums such as ‘OK Computer’, ‘Kid A’, and ‘In Rainbows’ selling millions of copies worldwide.

Photo by Zach White

Radiohead’s visionary vocalist, lyricist, and multi-instrumentalist Thom Yorke has also had a successful solo career, releasing three solo albums, scoring the chilling soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ remake, and forming a band with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker titled ‘Atoms For Peace’.

Guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood, known for his creative instrumentation and extensive atmosphere building, has recently been nominated for his third Academy Award for best soundtrack, in Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog. His previous work also includes frequent collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson, for which he scored his last four films and new fan-favorite, ‘Licorice Pizza’.

On May 13, The Smile released their debut album ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ to the world. The band’s lineup consists of Yorke and Greenwood, accompanied by virtuoso jazz drummer Tom Skinner of afrobeat band, Sons of Kemet. Why would Yorke recruit a drummer from a completely different genre of music than his own? Well, if you’ve ever seen a video of Thom Yorke dancing, you’d understand why. He loves a good groove. ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’ is incredibly groove-based, and despite Tom’s drumming standing out, the album no doubt sounds like a new Radiohead release. Produced by veteran producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, the feel of this new album quite frankly sounds on par with ‘In Rainbows’. The hard, energetic track ‘You Will Never Work in Television Again’ directly parallels ‘Bodysnatchers’ and a slow hauntingly beautiful ballad ‘Free in the Knowledge’ walks hand in hand with the ethereal ‘Nude’.

Photo by Zach White

It was 9:30PM on a Tuesday night, and while everyone else was studying for their final end-of-year exams, I was taking a light break from the books and leaning against the dividing barricade about to witness one of my musical heroes play in front of my very eyes. Before I had even gotten to my spot, I’d arrived at the venue early (very early) in hopes of getting my ‘OK Computer’ CD signed. No luck. But I’m proud to say I stood for 5 hours in the pouring rain with a group of Radiohead superfans, got briefly snuck into soundcheck by a cool venue employee, and became mates with a Brazilian man whose concert attendance resume spans from B.B. King to My Bloody Valentine.

As Thom Yorke walks onto the stage, the crowd erupts and Yorke greets everyone with a nonchalant “What’s up?”. He sits down at his piano and starts to play. “My eyes are open wide”, he wails, “and now I see you, without your crown.” Bass and drums kick in. ‘Panavision’ is a slow song, but the atmosphere is without a doubt there. After all, some die-hard fans had been camped outside the venue since 10:00 that morning, and though the show wasn’t sold out completely, Radiohead fans are notorious for their unwavering support.

Photo by Zach White

No time wasted. The Smile directly kicks into my personal favorite song from the new album, ‘The Smoke’. As Tom breaks out a tastefully funky backbeat groove, Thom (God, Tom, Thom, this is so confusing) cranks his bass amp up to 11 and plucks one of the most simple but memorable bass lines that I’ve heard in a while.

It begs me,
While I’m sleeping.

Then, something truly surreal happened. Swaying left and right in the crowd, I transfixed my gaze on Thom. He looks directly at me, and his cold eyes directly stare into my soul. For about ten straight seconds, we maintain direct eye contact, a mini staring contest of sorts, all while bobbing our heads back and forth like a pair of tropical birds in perfect synchronicity.

Photo by Zach White

Safe to say, that everything was in its right place.

‘Fake Plastic Trees’. ‘Nude’. ‘Exit Music’. ‘Creep’. ‘Karma Police’. I just held the gaze of one of the most prolific songwriters on the planet.

As the band essentially just does a live playthrough of their new release, with a couple of tracks switched around, the audience is dead focused. There was also a strange aura of exclusive respect for the new music. Treating The Smile as its own entity and not just the guys from Radiohead plus a drummer. No people shouting ‘Creep!’, or anything, for that matter. This was a sophisticated concert. This is not pool party music by any means. In between songs, Thom spat out a stream of consciousness chit-chat.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I’d like to introduce the band”
“You will all starve.”

When introducing ‘Friend of a Friend’, a song written the day prior in Zagreb, he makes an inaudible remark with a snide grin. He sighs.

“Nobody gets my jokes”.

As the tracks ebb and flow subtly, the audience wavers from side to side, moving in a rippling motion like a rock is dropped into a pond. Then, darkness. Something big is about to happen.

“There was a point maybe a year and a half ago where I wondered if I’d ever be doing this again. A lot happened during the pandemic. This is a song called ‘Free in the Knowledge’”.

As Thom stands under the bright spotlight on the stage with a slightly battered acoustic guitar, he starts to strum the opening chords to ‘Free in the Knowledge’, the most beautiful and haunting song I’ve heard in recent time.

His weeping falsetto weaves in and out.

Is just a bad moment
And we are fumbling around
But we won’t get caught like that
Soldiers on our backs

When the song ends, silence hangs solemnly in the air.

Photo by Zach White

The trio finish with a roaring encore of ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’, the first single released by the band in early January of this year, and ‘Pulled Apart by Horses’, a solo song from Thom.

Overall, the Smile’s live performance leveled out as a solid introduction to the band and their work, and despite being filled with fantastic new material, there were no Radiohead songs played (or should I say “no surprises”?).

Photo by Zach White

The Smile is slated to play at Major festivals such as Roskilde, All Points East, and the Montreux Jazz fest this summer and embark on their North American tour this November playing in 19 cities across the US and Canada. [More here]

Zach White

Headline photo by Zach White

One Comment
  1. Katy Lunger says:

    I’ve been trying to find an intelligent discussion about this album on the web to no avail. There are tons of critical reviews, blah blah blah, reddit threads of RH superfans discussing which song sounds like a song from a RH album, which bass line they liked, how it doesn’t “match up” to any RH album, where’s Ed? I can’t take it anymore. I literally found ONE comment on reddit where someone was actually asking what the theme of the album was. Oh, and then there was one saying that a line “seemed” political, but he wasn’t sure…. Why can’t we all see this album for what it is: a commentary on the current global situation. Times are a changin’ and things are getting ugly, real quick. He’s talking about the people that smile to our faces while they lie to us. He’s talking about the common angst and dread we are all feeling as our economies crumble. He’s talking about how we could realize that we’re all the same and we COULD work together, we COULD play a part in the future… unfortunately nobody seems to be able to discern this from the album.. Apparently the “weird” melodies and “messed up” bass lines are all the rage in the threads. I’ve completely lost all hope in humanity. Are there any actual intellectual fans out there? Anyone??? Anywhere???

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