Put yourself in these shoes: you’re 22, fresh out of college (graduated a little over two months ago), you’ve listened to Radiohead for a sizable portion of your time in both college and high school, and you’ve been fortunate to have been overwhelmed with a deluge of blessings these past few months in the form of both a grandiose, beautiful Radiohead album—a top 5 pick for me, without a doubt—as well as a tour, the band’s first since The King of Limbs touring cycle wrapped up four years prior. The tour sold out as soon as it was announced; this is Thom & Jonny & Colin & Ed & Phil; after all, tickets were always going to be hard to come by, so you’re pretty much forced to fork over money to a ticket reselling website. To this day, it’s the most money you have spent on a single concert.
Countless years later, however, as you’re cleaning and preparing your camera, recharging its battery, making sure your memory cards have plenty of space on them, making sure the glass of your lenses is squeaky clean, you don’t regret a single aspect of that concert experience. You don’t regret the money you shelled out for a single ticket. You especially don’t regret the trip you take up to New York of all places, even though the summer weather that can occur in such a location has the potential to do anyone in. You don’t regret the chaotic filing into the venue. And you especially don’t regret or wish you could do over or wish something could have been different about your night in New York for one of these Radiohead shows.
Though, to be honest, what would you have wished for? What would you want to have been different? You know, when it comes to concerts, especially from bands you revere so highly, it’s always best to temper your expectations – what if it turns out to be a total dud, after all? But this was not the case; Radiohead was alive and powerful that entire night, never letting up for the entirety of their initial 17-song set, plus seven additional songs split over two encores. You absolutely lost it early when they played “Ful Stop,” an immediate highlight at the time of A Moon Shaped Pool’s release. You got to witness the tour debut of “15 Step,” a masterpiece of an album opener. “Idioteque,” the song you’ve had on repeat for the past several weeks, is performed as well, and you couldn’t have been happier. You got to witness the first performance of “Let Down” in a decade. If there was a single fault to be found in that night’s proceedings, it was purely due to nitpicking. You knew how lucky you were as soon as the lights came on and everyone had to go home, but it’s not until years later, after you once again have to head home following the conclusion of a concert by a Radiohead-adjacent band, that it really hits you. You saw Radiohead in all their glory. And it was this show that began your journey to cover live music.
Why do I bring up a concert I attended six years ago to talk about the live performance of a musical project by two principal Radiohead members? If you compare the two bands, The Smile and Radiohead, yes, the music is similar in style, and again, it shares two members—Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood—but at the end of the day, they’re two different, albeit equally glorious beasts. In my mind, it’s pretty simple, and hopefully, it strikes a chord with my fellow music journalists: I try my hardest to be impartial when it comes to covering any musical act, even and especially the artists I love, and I would do the same for The Smile, but considering the significant presence Thom and Jonny have had in my life, not only would it be near impossible to be objective about them and this show, and not only would my unabashed love for them and their artistry spill out in gallons, I would make no effort to prevent this admiration from making itself known; essentially, I would encourage it. It’s unbelievably difficult to do anything but show your reverence for such musicians, especially when they’re responsible for a show so formative in your time as both a fan and music journalist.
Though in The Smile’s defence, primarily based on their merits alone, they certainly earn the praise they have been receiving since the start of the rollout for A Light for Attracting Attention, an album that, in and of itself, effortlessly takes the best parts of the musician’s genius and adds even more refined elements of art and math rock, all while seamlessly meshing familiar sensibilities of jazz and ’80s-inspired ambient music. If that alone sounds appetizing to the ears, imagine how the live arrangements of these songs must feel to the senses. Thom and Jonny have cemented themselves as maestros of the live music form due largely to their fearlessness and bravery in experimentation, as well as pushing every song in their catalogues to the limit to bring out their best form on stage. Even songs that critics at one point derided have found second life thanks in large part to the form they take when they’re performed onstage.
What I witnessed on Monday night as The Smile—consisting of Thom, Jonny, and former Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner—took the stage was largely workmanlike, a live show with flair and showmanship that always felt incredible and grand, but never overwhelming. I don’t think “safe” would be the correct word to use in this context—Thom and Jonny have never been the kind of musicians that lean on being “safe.” Rather, it was the kind of feeling, the kind of sensation you get from reuniting with an old friend, a friend who only gets more impressive and successful each time you see them. Their accomplishments are never grating, nor do they get stale or boring. Rather, with each new trophy, each new flex, each new achievement, you find new ways of being impressed by them, of being enthralled. They’ve always been this good, and you’ve always known, and yet each time they impress, the feeling of being starstruck by them begins anew. You know what you’re getting each time Thom and Jonny, or Colin or Ed or Phil, take the stage, but the experience never feels diluted as a result, nor does it mean they’ll put out the same old tricks.
It honestly feels as if Thom and Jonny have reached the stage in their careers where they’ve nestled wonderfully in a sweet spot between innovation and comfort, wherein the most subtle ways they continue to break new ground. I don’t know how else to describe this feeling other than to point to their performance of “You Will Never Work in Television Again,” a strong cut in a gallery of even stronger selections, a song that takes off running and never lets up for its close-to-three-minute runtime. You become accustomed to their songs known for their fast tempos and unrelenting natures, yet by the time I heard the final notes of “Television” crawl into my ears, never before have I not wanted to come up for air after colliding with such a fierce wall of sound.
I felt something familiar as the show moved closer to its conclusion, as it transitioned to its only encore, the same sensation I felt those six years ago when Thom and Jonny’s primary band took the stage for their first encore. It was a mixture of gratitude and melancholy, of feeling blessed to have witnessed two geniuses at the peak of their powers not once, but twice in my young lifetime, but knowing that the night would end after just a few songs. Thom and Jonny joked about it earlier upon properly introducing the band, acknowledging their small catalogue as a newer band. It’s because of those quips I and everyone knew that they had, at most, three or four songs left in them. It’s a double-edged sword, seeing your favorite musicians perform: you love every moment of onstage banter, every song performed, every fragment of the spectacle, and you won’t, can’t accept when they must conclude things. So you take in those last few cuts, you savor every lyric, every note played, every beat of the drum, and look forward to the next time you’ll get to see them strut their stuff so effortlessly. You hope it won’t take another six years, and you don’t care how you get to see them play, be it in the photo pit or in the stands; you just want to see them in all their glory. And you don’t hope for anything else. Artists like these, what more could you want? It was already the highest privilege to get to cover them.
The Smile continues their sold-out U.S. tour with another New England stop in Boston before making their way to New York—Brooklyn and NYC—for three nights. Robert Stillman will be the opening act for all shows. The remaining dates of their “A Light for Attracting Attention” tour can be found below.
Tour Dates (w/ Robert Stillman):
11/16 – Boston, MA – Roadrunner
11/18 – Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre
11/19 – Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre
11/20 – New York, NY – Hammerstein Ballroom
11/23 – Washington, D.C. – The Anthem
11/25 – Montreal, QC – MTELUS
11/26 – Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
11/28 – Detroit, MI – Masonic Temple Theatre
11/29 – Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
12/1 – Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre
12/3 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
12/4 – Atlanta, GA – The Eastern
12/6 – New Orleans, LA – Orpheum Theatre
12/8 – Dallas, TX – The Factory
12/10 – Denver, CO – Mission Ballroom
12/11 – Denver, CO – Mission Ballroom
12/14 – Portland, OR – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
12/16 – Seattle, WA – WaMu Theater
12/18 – San Francisco, CA – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
12/21 – Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Auditorium
12/22 – Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Auditorium