This review will serve as a bit of a writing exercise. In reading and writing about The Smile, the Radiohead side project/supergroup consisting of Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, and superstar jazz drummer Tom Skinner, I’d wager that 90% of the reviews spend most of their time talking about Radiohead rather than The Smile themselves. This isn’t a negative thing – Radiohead is the kind of culture-defining band / instant-arena-sellers that makes it nearly impossible to talk about anything within their orbit without referencing them first. However, to do so would be an incredible disservice to the set I captured in Atlanta last weekend at The Eastern, with an at-capacity crowd having one of the best nights of their lives as the group absolutely tore the stage down. So — despite opening with the Radiohead bit, I’m making an effort for the rest of this review to leave that aspect out so that, maybe, we can appreciate The Smile on their own terms without comparison.
They deserve to stand completely alone in this new project. On this cold night in Atlanta, The Smile brought a spellbinding form of chaos to the stage that matched the frenzy of their 2022 debut A Light for Attracting Attention. Coming onstage to the swirling, arpeggiated synths of “The Same”, Greenwood and Skinner took their seats behind their grand piano and synthesizer, respectively, and prepped the stage for Yorke to arrive to the throngs of screaming fans. Behind them was a light display taking up the entire stage area that acted as a mimetic device for the energy of the set; on the lower energy tracks, it served as a slow-burning fire that illuminated the room as the intensity crept up. On the fiery end of the spectrum like “A Hairdryer” and “Thin Thing”, it became a blinding, ecstatic display that left me in a trance. The band seemed to be having so much fun with it, as well, swapping instruments and stage positions, with Yorke serving as the sort-of conductor with a grand smile on his face. Songs from A Light got a rapturous reception, with the finale run of “Pana-vision” into “The Smoke” into the burning “You Will Never Work in Television Again” almost having the feel of a jam-band concert, with one song slowly transforming into the other with no real stop or end. Skinner is this band’s secret weapon, deftly moving from rhythm to rhythm and somehow meeting every track with exactly what it needs to keep a taut tension before inevitably growing into a massive anthem.
The biggest takeaway for me from The Smile’s incredible set is just how much is coming for us in 2023. Midway through the set, Yorke joked that “We’re going to play some new songs, as we’re a new band and we would only play for an hour if we didn’t” before leading into several new songs that are even more exciting and intriguing than the songs from A Light. “Bodies Laughing” felt like an avant-Bossa Nova masterpiece, with Greenwood and Skinner locked into an airtight groove on bass and drums, and “Bending Hectic” feels like the next masterpiece from a group of three that has no shortage of them. “Bending Hectic” was the grand climax of the set — a nearly-seven-minute burner that began with an atmospheric, spacious post-rock melody and transformed into a fully-grunged out crescendo with Yorke’s signature howl echoing through the room. This is perhaps the most exciting thing about The Smile – they appear to be doing the opposite of slowing down, and are seemingly picking up steam to keep this going for the long run. Whatever 2023 holds for The Smile (and given Yorke’s comments on-stage, they’ll probably be back next year for more), this is a show you don’t need to miss.
Check out our photos below: