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The Smile: A night at the Palace

What started as a side project from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, could turn Radiohead into a side project, or end it completely. And that’s OK.

The emergence of the Smile as a successor to one of the greatest British bands, should have nothing mournful about it.

It’s a reincarnation, and while it might have Yorke and Greenwood front-and-centre, they aren’t leaning on their legacy. They barely even acknowledge it on stage.

The Smile’s rise is the result of two musical geniuses, deciding they want to do something new, and different; and people like what they’re doing.

I mean, why wouldn’t people like it, these guys made Radiohead.

Drummer Tom Skinner is the somewhat understated star of the piece, as the pacesetter - but there can be little doubt where the majority of the writing and musical composition must come from.

At Alexandra Palace on Saturday 23 March, the gig was marked by lots of instrument switching, a distinct lack of faffing, an incredible light show, and a simple lack of ego.

The first thing I noticed, was the crowd. It’s a genuinely diverse range of older Radiohead fans in their  40s and 50s, who rode the first wave in the early 90s.

Then you had the 30-year-olds like myself, who grew up on OK Computer and In Rainbows.

The third layer, was the Gen Z-ers, chattering in the queue about going through their parents stash of music and retelling stories about a gig in 2001, that their dad said was the “best they’d ever been to”.

Unfortunately, these fans can be a little annoying though.

I was stationed behind someone who whipped their phone out at every moment to take two minute videos, while some of the older fans kept shouting things out, receiving a number of punchy responses from Yorke.

The Smile top-loaded their set with lots of unreleased songs, including Colours Fly, Skrting on the Surface, Instant Psalm, Waving a White Flag, and others later on.

While this wouldn't have been for everyone, I personally thought they managed to maintain the audience's attention throughout. In fact, I don't think I've ever been to a gig where so much new material was played, and well received. Though of course, some will say it was their 'B-Sides'.

The most remarkable thing, was the nonchalant and flawless switching of instruments, like musical chairs.

At the end of one song, the lights went down, and came back up a moment later.

Thom Yorke’s guitar had been replaced by a bass, and Jonny’s bass, by a harp.

The next song, Thom was on guitar, and Jonny was on bass.

Then Thom was on piano and Jonny was playing a cello-like instrument.

It’s was dizzying, and as someone with zero musical talent, unfathomable how these two could just turn their hand to whatever they wanted, and make it work.

Thom was also singing, and his voice has never sounded more angelic and massaged. There is no straining or shouting as there was in days gone by, all the while picking at his guitar, making extraordinary noises.

The gig was undoubtedly attended by lots of Radiohead fans - or at least fans who got into this music because of Radiohead, even if they’re now Smile fans independently.

There was a wide embrace of what has been created, not grieving for the end of something great, though.

Of course, it will always be a little sad to think of Radiohead as being over, but in fact, it’s been coming to a stop for ages.

Their last album was in 2016 with A Moon Shaped Pool, and before that The King of Limbs in 2011, which received a mixed reception.

Not really since In Rainbows in 2007 has Radiohead been a conventional album-making and then touring band.

With the exception of sporadic festivals and the odd gig here-and-there, it’s precisely their elusively which has added to their legacy and mystery.

But who knows what might happen in the future. Maybe Radiohead will get going again for another album.

Yet it’s understandable that Greenwood and Yorke wanted to do something new, and not really talk about it in definite terms.

Nobody has ended Radiohead or said the Smile is mutually exclusive to it.  But it doesn’t necessarily need a hard stop, either.

It’s OK that Radiohead might be no more, just enjoy what’s on offer now.

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