Radiohead is in a fairly unique position among rock bands in the current age. Right about the time that Thom Yorke decided he’d had enough of leading an alt.rock guitar band, they have been making fearless choices that have paid off handsomely. I’m sure there are tiny pockets of previous fans who just wanted to hear re-writes of “Creep,” “My Iron Lung” or “Karma Police” but I’d reckon that the the abrupt change in direction starting with Kid A has gained them a much larger following. It’s liberating to be able to creatively do whatever you want and still have the luxury of not only maintaining but growing your audience. Radiohead has managed to do what very few bands have been able to.
Yorke remains active outside the band, starting with his 2006 solo record debut The Eraser and branching out into partnerships like Atoms For Peace with Flea or writing soundtracks. Named after a William Blake poem, The Smile finds Yorke teamed up with Jonny Greenwood and while it’s certainly not a Radiohead record, it’s in the same neighborhood. Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner completes the trio and tonight they trotted out their debut album and then some. “Here’s a new song. They all are” as Yorke addressed the packed house.
“The Opposite” started out with a bubbly bass line that Yorke kept moving along, until Greenwood dug deep into some intricate guitar lines that would not be out of place on Fripp/Belew record. It was surprising to see how much bass Yorke played, as he’s generally playing guitar or keyboards or just singing in his main band but then again it’s not like Colin Greenwood doesn’t have a job to do. The three stretched out across the wide Roadrunner stage, Yorke and Skinner flanking the ends while Greenwood manned the middle linebacker slot, swapping out between his Les Pauls and a bass guitar.
Yorke should have registered the phrase “dance as if no one’s looking” and during the new song/non-LP song “Just Eyes And Mouth” he stepped away from the keyboards for a bit and did his patented Yorkeian shimmy, arms snaking wildly around as Greenwood and Skinner kept the song chugging along. “Colours Fly” was another as yet unreleased song that hit the mark, underscoring the creativity of this project and showing promise for at least another record if not a tour. “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” had the lads rolling up their sleeves and really getting down to work; Yorke left the keyboard halfway through to strap on his Jazzmaster and brought some ferocity as Greenwood and Skinner kept a motorik groove going at a full boil. More of this, please.
Robert Stillman played solo sax and looped himself as well as a handful of pre-recorded tapes from a console to his right. He started the set by softly blowing into the saxophone mouthpiece, just a slight notch or two above absolute silence before bringing in more volume and layers. Evoking a tone that is not too off the mark from some ’60’s records on Impulse! is never a bad place to be, and Stillman’s work here was captivating. Also of note is his contributions to the set closers of The Smile, lending some texture against Yorke’s funky bass line on “The Smoke” and bringing a blast or three on “You’ll Never Work In Television Again,” current favorite as nominee for 2022’s best song titles.