Smile review – Yorke and Greenwood stay close to mothership | pop and rock

In primates, what looks like a smile usually signifies submission. In humans, it is more complicated.

“There is a smile of love and there is a smile of deceit,” intones a disembodied voice – that of actor Cillian Murphy – at the start of the third live performance in a series of smile, the last group led by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The power trio is completed by fellow ‘Head Jonny Greenwood, a modern composer of film soundtracks, and drummer Tom Skinner of jazz activists Sons of Kemet. (Producer Nigel Godrich is a silent partner.) It’s a sunny January morning outside, contrasting with the dimly lit Alternate Sunday Service inside, which features a church-worshipping Fender Rhodes. The group slipped hours after their 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. live streams. The only sign they aren’t fresh as daisies is a slight mistake on a song.

the opening summon is by William Blake, that great observer of the dual nature of humanity. But there’s also confusion: Last May, Yorke said the smile should be named after a particularly poignant poem by Ted Hughes. This confusion persists. The songs that make up Smile’s 15-song set list fall under this new pseudonym, but Yorke and Greenwood’s concerns and aesthetics are still relevant. In May, when the Smile made their online debut at Glastonbury, they were hailed as a raw, almost post-punk outfit, in stark contrast to Radiohead’s more rococo production.

This morning the light blue water between the bands is less clear and less blue. Like last spring, they’re playing an unreleased song, previously assumed to be by Radiohead – Skirting on the Surface. Yorke’s ravaged croon takes center stage and Greenwood’s effect-laden instrumentation now provides sharp counterpoint. There’s also Open the Floodgates, previously a Yorke solo track, now warmed by the glow of Greenwood’s guitar notes and the analog blooping of the multi-talented Skinner, who frequently leaves the kit during this gig to run a workstation. electronic. It peaks as something akin to 60s systems music, one of the main features of the set.

As these songs roll by, it seems Smile’s brutality proved fleeting. The vast majority of these songs are intense, layered, and feature Yorke and Greenwood’s vocals on guitar. How come it’s not a Radiohead concert? Because Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway aren’t there? So many of Yorke’s non-Radiohead projects have favored digital over instrumentation. It was easy to interpret his extracurricular activity as a restless singer exploring electronic sounds that the other members of Radiohead didn’t want. But the Smile is packed with guitars – electric and acoustic – with live percussion and harp thrown in for good measure.

Greenwood, who usually plays no role in Yorke’s side-scrolls, is in full swing in the Smile, bangs flop, tilting his bass on Free in Knowledge, hitting effects pedals with shod feet and playing keyboards with one hand as he attacks the harp with another on Speech Bubbles. (The downside is that the track sounds like three different songs playing simultaneously.)

Ready to take off… the Smile at Magazine. Photography: Wunmi Onibudo

Free in the Knowledge starts off very Radiohead. But the sharp, spacious percussion that closes the track is a nice start. As the gig unfolds, it feels like the Smiles have tuned in to much older electronic music, with resonant analog synths providing a clear divide between the bands – like the insistent oscillations of The Same. Of course, there’s also the gorgeous Skinner, whose default time signature is trigonometric. Although he doesn’t strictly play jazz, he strums the bells along his hats, lifting the trio with his dynamism. The throbbing rattle of thin thing is a revelation, the three instrumentalists fighting for leather. Just eyes and mouth is practically Afrobeat, with Greenwood’s guitar and Skinner’s kit doing some really new stuff.

Most people in attendance (or listening online) will likely be thrilled with this not-so-new iteration of the Yorke/Greenwood partnership. But the Smiles are more convincing musically when they move away from Radiohead.

The songs of Two Smile are now familiar. Smoke finds Yorke playing dubby bass and pivoting on the hips – attributable, perhaps, to the influence of Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea and his meandering work in that other great Radiohead spin-off, Atoms for Peace.

The set ends with the excellent You Will Never Work in Television Again, whose lyrics to “bunga bunga” confused those unfamiliar with the nastiest ins and outs of Italian public life at the time. era of Silvio Berlusconi. (Yorke’s other half is a Sicilian actor.) Deceiving politicians is a welcome line in Yorke’s work. It’s hard not to think of the Smile without thinking of Berlusconi’s shark dentistry or Tony Blair’s grimace.

About Raymond Lang

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