The Smile live at London’s Hammersmith Apollo review: a jazz-punk adventure

Hammersmith is abuzz tonight as if this sold-out Apollo show were an underplay for Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s main breadwinner Radiohead. However, now with two stonking albums to their name and a reputation for jazzy and freewheeling live shows, The Smile – completed by Sons Of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner – are enough of a main event draw to render the term ‘side-project’ obsolete.

Having played a pretty opulent set in Manchester the night before with accompaniment from the London Contemporary Orchestra for BBC 6 Music Festival, expectations are high. By the time the lights go down, it’s clear we’re not getting the same treatment. Not that we’re not left feeling hard done by. In fact, there’s a benefit to the more intimate feel of Yorke’s acoustic plucking and tender yearning on the opening song of ‘Wall Of Eyes’’ title track.

Flowing into first album ‘A Light For Attracting Attention‘ highlight ‘The Opposite’ – a track with some of the far-reaching spirit of Radiohead’s ‘Amnesiac’ albeit with a much more sleazy groove – The Smile manage a rare feat. As they swap instruments and lose themselves, the show feels like a GarageBand jam but without the wankery (and that’s accounting for the dissonant clarinet solos and Greenwood somehow managing to make shredding on a harp look cool). You can’t call this self-indulgent when a capacity crowd are stuck in their quicksand funk.

Jonny Greenwood of The Smile performs at Eventim Apollo on March 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Baker/Getty Images)
Jonny Greenwood of The Smile performs at Eventim Apollo on March 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Baker/Getty Images)

It’s a sweet stage production too.  “Look at all the pretty lights,” chirps Yorke as the impressive arena-ready lighting and screens come to life during ‘A Hairdryer’. We oblige, enjoying the moments of mystery all the more. Back in January, the band launched ‘Wall Of Eyes’ with a special playback and screening event at Prince Charles Cinema in London, where Yorke and Greenwood described their approach to songwriting like tending to “unfinished canvases around a room”. That explains why so many classic Radiohead songs spend years – often decades – kicking around the setlist before being released. Tonight, that feeling of a band constantly in creative motion comes with the outing of three unreleased tracks: the runaway post-punk ghost train of ‘Colours Fly’, the slow sunrise euphoria of ‘Instant Psalm’ and the nosebleed-inducing 1000mph noodlings of ‘Zero Sum’.

‘Friend Of A Friend’ brings a surprise sing-along, ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’ bristles with its awkward and jagged hooks and the closer of the main set ‘Bending Hectic’ would give anything at tonight’s Oscars a run for its money as a slow-burning cinematic epic. “This is an old one,” offers Yorke, introducing the encore. “Hope you know it”. One naive fool in the sidelines screams out for ‘Karma Police’. Alas, it’s a punked-up version of deep Yorke solo cut ‘FeelingPulledApartByHorses’. You were never gonna get a whiff of ‘Creep’, and who needs it? Be glad to have this thrilling new beast: loose, instinctive, fitter, happier, more productive.

Tom Skinner of The Smile performs at Eventim Apollo on March 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns)
Tom Skinner of The Smile performs at Eventim Apollo on March 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns)

The Smile’s London setlist was:

‘Wall of Eyes’
‘The Opposite’
‘A Hairdryer’
‘Speech Bubbles’
‘Colours Fly’
‘Skrting on the Surface’
‘Instant Psalm’
‘Waving a White Flag’
‘Thin Thing’
‘Zero Sum’
‘Friend of a Friend’
‘Read the Room’
‘The Smoke’
‘You Will Never Work in Television Again’
‘Under Our Pillows’
‘Bending Hectic’
Encore:
‘FeelingPulledApartByHorses’ (Thom Yorke song)
‘Teleharmonic’
‘Pana-Vision’
‘You Know Me!’


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