Strictly no dancing

Richard Nevin is entertained by The Smile.

I was going to start this review by making a couple of oh, so humorous asides about how this gig, unlike the usual rock and roll show, wouldn’t feature the band asking to see our hands, requesting us to sing along or indeed make some noise. And in the case of the latter the opposite occurred, we were told to “shut the f**k up”. Twice. Well, not everyone you understand just those who seem to think that admission allows you to having barking loud conversations with your friends at any given moment, an increasingly common and annoying habit. And Thom Yorke was very annoyed.

More of that later but before The Smile took to the stage for an evening of intense but wonderful music, we were treated to support act James Holden. A Thom Yorke acolyte, along with his hirsute stage partner who appeared to shake anything that came to hand by way of accompaniment, including a bunch of sea shells, Holden produced a wall of sound interspersed with mesmeric beats and the sort of electronic soundscapes that not only acted as a perfect curtain raiser for the main act but also had me seeking his music out post show. Job done as a support act.

There were plenty of Radiohead T-shirts on show at the 02 Academy, unsurprising as two-thirds of The Smile are made up by members of said band, Thom Yorke on lots of instruments and Jonny Greenwood on even more instruments. Tom Skinner sensibly sticks to drums and percussion as we are treated to selection of tracks from the band’s first two albums, the odd unreleased tune and one Yorke solo cut that made up part of a 3-song encore.

Situated in a semi-circle, the band members left the front and centre of the stage empty but for those of us at one end of the balcony it meant that Yorke was rendered invisible for much of the show which led to few furrowed brows and craned necks. It did mean that we had a perfect view of Skinner on the opposite side though, perfect for drumming bores like me. Erstwhile member of defunct outfit Sons Of Kemmet, their particular jazz stylings give Skinner the perfect skills for The Smile’s progish output and like the best tub-thumpers he makes the often odd time signatures look so easy, displaying a nonchalance as if he is miles away wondering what to have for his tea or if he left the iron on. Greenwood switches between instruments constantly even giving it a bit of Jimmy Page, drawing a bow across his bass at one point.

On top of all this Yorke’s voice soars, his vocals a perfect accompaniment to the songs that almost all appear to have a hint of implied menace about them, disguised by unconventional rhythm and often sweet melodies. The nearest we get to audience participation is a low, almost apologetically mumbled sing along to recent single Friend Of a Friend but for most of the show we watch, nod along, but there is no dancing whatsoever. Bending Hectic, closing the main set is toweringly brilliant, they probably won’t like the comparison, but it reminded me of Pink Floyd at their darkest and most brilliant.

Of course, the blathermouths must disrupt the quiet moments and incur the wrath of Thom Yorke, the second of which occurs before the final song of the night, You Know Me. A group close to where I was standing decide to up and leave and talk loudly as if departing a wedding reception. Once the expletive-ridden request is fired from the stage they acquiesce and we, rather ironically, applaud.

One would hope that this doesn’t taint the view of Birmingham for the band; after all it happens elsewhere, unfortunately. It certainly didn’t spoil my evening – the show was everything I expected and more, three supremely talented musicians demonstrating a chemistry that deserved the appreciation and attention we all gave them. Well, nearly all of us.