The Smile Bring Dynamic Sound to Milwaukee

Photos and Review by Stephen Bloch

For this music patron, there is a simple formula for a successful live experience:  Take an enigmatic and talented frontman with a skilled band, novel music, killer sound, well-orchestrated lights, amazing venue, and an enthusiastic audience, mix that all together and you have something tasty.  The Smile, who is touring in support of their stellar 2022 release A Light for Attracting Attention, brought all of those ingredients to Milwaukee’s VERY sold out Riverside Theater on Tuesday evening.  Radiohead is arguably the most popular and celebrated band in the indie world for the past 30 years, but they have pretty much been on hiatus since 2018.  Some may see The Smile as a side dish, but it really is a full blown entrée.

Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead along with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner have something very special going.  By playing comparatively small venues with that of Radiohead, both the intensity and nuance of their performance are measurably higher.  A 90 minute performance had nary a lull, as the band played all 13 tracks from the new album, four unreleased tracks and one Thom Yorke cover.  Watching Yorke and Greenwood seamlessly transition between varied soundscapes as well as chosen instruments was like watching a surgeon or chef and their sous work magic. Even their stage crew were rhythmic in the way they moved around on stage in preparation for the next song.   The band seemed to be having fun and feeling the crowd’s vibe regardless of the show formula they prepared. Yorke gyrated, Greenwood peered from beneath his coiffe, and Skinner kept it all together effortlessly. The integration of opener Robert Stillman’s sax into the mix added even more dimension to “Colors Fly”, “Pana-Vision”, and “The Smoke”. 

The Smile is a raw band and Yorke was pretty clear that this was a new venture and they are just warming up and adding to their offerings.  While they clearly have drawn inspiration from Radiohead’s intricate and dynamic sounds, this isn’t reheated leftovers. The Smile is an intensely flavored dish that stands on its own. It has intensity and density that brings people back for seconds and thirds. 

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