And The Crowd Met This Smile: The Smile at Franklin Music Hall - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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Before Franklin Music Hall opened their doors shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday night, a line of fans wound out through the parking lot gates, south on 7th Street, around the corner and all the way to 6th, and back up north toward Spring Garden. It was a diverse crowd, of all ages, many wearing Kid A tees. The ones who had been there longest had arrived at 10:00 a.m..

When Robert Stillman took the stage about an hour later, the house was already pretty close to full. Promising to “open up the space,” the English multi-instrumentalist dealt out a short set of complex jazz arrangements from behind a small island of electronic boxes, layering soothing pentatonic saxophone scales over twitchy digital beats.

The Smile | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Shortly following, percussionist Tom Skinner quietly took his place as his kit while guitarist Jonny Greenwood emerged, hailing hello, and provoking a warm roar amplified for the last member of The Smile to appear: Thom Yorke. With a bashful wave of acknowledgement, Yorke sat at a piano, his back to the crowd, and began to type out the opening notes of The Smile’s “Pana-Vision.”

Named for a Ted Hughes poem and hailed as a Radiohead side-project, The Smile’s 2022 album A Light For Attracting Attention was reportedly derived by Yorke and co. from hooks Greenwood had composed during COVID lockdowns. In May of 2021, Glastonbury Festival live-streamed their first performance, which they followed up early the next year with the release of six singles led by the bruising “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” and three London shows, also streamed digitally – a dystopian digital debut by the way that feels arguably appropriate for members of a band who have traded for decades on doomsaying.

The Smile | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

And speaking of doomsaying, The Smile’s debut of course prompted the inevitable freakout from Radiohead fans everywhere. In June of last year, SF Gate columnist Drew Magary built a case that the five rockers from Abingdon had given up the ghost. “The last time you saw them,” argues Magary, “was the last time you’ll ever see them. They’re done.” It’s a hard read, for the devoted, whose sunken spirits may have been lifted some by a January SPIN interview with Phil Selway dismissing the rumors: “as far as I know,” said the Radiohead drummer, “we’re still a band. If anybody knows any different, I’d be very interested.”

Either way, The Smile’s first Philly appearance delivered on all the best promises of any Yorke / Greenwood collaboration, and Skinner’s influence saliently served to disabuse of delusion those prone to thinking the trio’s debut is tantamount to Radiohead’s tenth studio record. Sure, you get the interplay of Yorke’s iconic falsetto against every perfect note of Greenwood’s finely woven fingerpicking – but you also get more intonations of afro-beat, and jazz informed by Stillman’s contributions as well. They played almost every song (notably omitting only “Free In The Knowledge”) and more: six additional new songs culminating with a searing crescendo of distortion on “Bending Hectic” during their encore – all hinting at a prompt follow-up record.

Setlist
Jul
08
The Smile
Franklin Music Hall
  • Pana-Vision
  • Speech Bubbles
  • The Opposite
  • A Hairdryer
  • Waving A White Flag
  • Under Our Pillows
  • We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
  • Colours Fly
  • Thin Thing
  • Teleharmonic
  • Skrting On The Surface
  • The Same
  • Read The Room
  • The Smoke
  • You Will Never Work In Television Again
  • Open The Floodgates
  • People On Balconies
  • Bending Hectic
  • Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
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