Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s The Smile Push Sonic Limits and Show Fan Appreciation in Atlanta

Photos and Review by Max Stewart

Everybody has those albums that mold your musical taste. Radiohead’s OK Computer was for sure mine. It was one of three CDs that I wore out during the summer going into freshmen year of high school. The multi-layered soundscapes and haunting yet beautiful melodies… everything about it was so intriguing. It felt like fans were all on an adventure following the band as they took bold leaps at every album release. More so than other bands of that era, they definitely had a way of challenging the listener into new sonic realms.

When Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood announced they were forming a new band, I was giddy. I knew that those two minds would create some beautiful music. Greenwood somehow attacks the guitar with finesse, his arrangements are the blood of Radiohead’s sound. Yorke’s other-worldly vibrato vocals and mystical songwriting are most definitely the heart. When it was announced that semi-frequent collaborator and jazz/experimental drummer Tom Skinner would also be involved, I knew this project was going to have a steady pulse and some real spirit. Enter The Smile.

When the band rolled into The Eastern in Atlanta on their winter tour, the sold out audience was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see the musical icons in the 2,300 capacity theatre. Their debut album, A Light for Attracting Attention, was played in its entirety, with each song sprinkled throughout the set. It is one of the best records released in years, and the songs translate masterfully in a live setting. The songs vary stylistically: the brooding, piano-driven “Pana-Vision,” thrashing post-punk “You Will Never Work in Television,” and the funk-fused “The Smoke” with Yorke on bass. It truly was an enchanting display of musicianship, as the band members frequently alternated on instruments throughout the night.

The new song “Colours Fly” was one of the many highlights, with saxophonist Robert Stillman sitting in and Skinner putting on a clinic for any aspiring percussionists in the audience. The slow-building tune exploded into a beautiful and reverb-heavy new galaxy, lifted into new heights by Greenwood’s acoustic prowess. All of the new tunes (including “Bending Hectic,” “Bodies Laughing,” “Read the Room”) were superb, proving this band has a long runway and certainly is not just side step for any member. They even debuted a new song during the encore, “Teleharmonic,” which seemed like a perfect encapsulation of The Smile’s sound. It is still hard to believe the weight and power of the music on display by just three people.

What happened after the show capped it all off and completely blew my mind. 200+ fans lined up (myself included) to get items signed by the band after the show, and the band waited and signed every single one. I had seen on Reddit that they had been doing this on the tour, and it was once in a lifetime memories made for the legions of dedicated fans. No eBayers selling autographs for cash, just fans that would treasure these items for years to come. Yorke and Greenwood certainly do not need to do this, and it is rare for an artist of their pedigree to not hop on the bus to the luxury hotel immediately following the gig.

It was really a magical memory to an already fantastic night. I made friends in line with two other fans, one of which was a musician getting her acoustic guitar signed and the other getting The Smile’s record cover print signed that her husband brought her from their car. It was very moving seeing fans have their 30 second moment with the band with grins ear to ear (or big ‘smiles’ you could say…). Yorke and Skinner made delightful conversation and Greenwood was polite and cheerful. I got my copy of OK Computer autographed by Yorke and Greenwood, and newly purchased copy of A Light for Attracting Attention signed by Skinner, complimenting his insane chops on “Colours Fly.”

When I geeked out to Yorke about the quality of the new tunes, he confirmed new music was on the way. Queue many more smiles to come.

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