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The Smile 11/23/22 @ The Anthem, Washington D.C. Take Two: The Follow-Up

I am not a journalist: succinct, clear, and unbiased (ideally). I am a novelist: wordy, unnecessarily complicated, and opinionated (even though they tend to be soft). When I go into a concert, I focus on the feeling, the atmosphere, and the vibe, and the review becomes a personal story.


Photo by Ceamélia Hairan


The Smile rolled into D.C., and I prepared myself. I did research, prepped a little of the article, and planned to take better-detailed notes at the show. Afterward, I drove an hour and a half to my mother-in-law’s apartment for Thanksgiving. Once we arrived, I tried to stay awake to write an immediate review, but driving over 700 miles throughout the day did me in. I was too tired to finish it; that happened in the morning. While I am happy not punching RADIOHEAD into the title and throughout the piece, I kept enhancing my review as I shared my thoughts with my friends. I finally realized that I needed a follow-up article.

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Seeing The Smile at The Anthem took me to a place I have never gone with Thom Yorke; I was at a loss for words. My notes were sparse because I was forced to pay attention. I felt sensory overload. The music was heavily layered. Each member seemed to go in different directions simultaneously, and I had difficulty deciding who to follow. I wanted to focus on Greenwood, but Skinner was incredible. He was calm and collected, moving with intention, matching my heartbeat, yet musically, he was complicated and manic. Greenwood was hammering away, building repetition. And how could I not give attention to Yorke? His music and voice have always done a great job replicating my emotions. On stage, The Smile performed my feelings of being overwhelmed right in front of my eyes. Building anxiety, pounding heartbeat, and my soul pouring out its sorrow. All in the very first song, “The Same.”


When “Thin Thing” started, I thought, I love musicians. I always have, but watching two that I have seen numerous times challenge themselves with a talented jazz drummer is why I go see live music.

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I have seen Radiohead several times, but the last time was on 07/23/18 at The Schottenstein in Columbus, Ohio. It was a present to myself for completing my MFA. I took my daughter and a couple of my close friends. We arrived early because I wanted to get as close to the front as possible. Junun opened for them, but I will get to that later.


When Radiohead came on, they opened with “Daydreaming.” That went into my favorite, “Desert Island Disk,” and then they broke into the noise with “Ful Stop.” Playing some of my favorite songs, I danced with a crowd ranging in age from teens to grey hairs. They obviously loved playing music together as much as I loved dancing to it. That energy brought out my sentimentality, and I thought, Enjoy this, Jesse. It could be the last time you ever see them together.


Seeing Thom Yorke’s Anima tour was memorable. However, I could not help but think, he looks lonely on stage. He is a Libra and thrives on the energy he shares with other musicians. Yes, that is not scientific; just one of my soft opinions. That thought reminded me of the Atoms For Peace show my son and I had the opportunity to see at the Capital One Arena in Georgetown. It was only lightly attended but perfect. Flea, another Libra, was a member of that band, and it was fun to watch Thom feed off the energy that the fifty-year-old Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist brought. He bounced around the stage more than most of the younger musicians I had seen, and that was the point of that show, the high energy.

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Photo by Camélia Hairane


“Speech Bubbles” and “Free In The Knowledge” slowed the show. While my anxiety was lowering, my sentimentality was growing. “Free in the knowledge that one day this will end/Free in the knowledge that everything is change/And this was just a bad moment.” My failures flashed before my eyes, and I listened to Thom Yorke as I had listened to him many times before. “We were fumbling around/But we won’t get caught like that/Soldiers on our backs/We won’t get caught like that.


Of course, Mr. Yorke was singing about many things. That is the greatness in his lyrics; they often come from multiple people but are sung through his voice. Along with the music, he is the messenger. “I talk to the face in the mirror/But he can’t get through/I said, “It’s time that you deliver/We see through you.” It brought me to tears. He realizes he is a voice of the world, so he diverts that pressure to an alter ego, trying to protect his core essence, the one we don’t see on stage. However, “I talk to the face in the mirror/But he can’t get through/Turns out we’re in this together/Both me and you.” He allows himself to be vulnerable and tells us, “This is me. I’ve been doing this for so long that my stage persona and I are one and the same.”

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Having some Yorke shows under my belt, I wanted to focus on Jonny Greenwood. He is an amazing musician. Brilliant. Like one in a lifetime. Although I had seen him with Radiohead, the attention was rarely on him. Even when Junun opened for their 2018 tour, Greenwood stood to the side, showcasing the talents of the Indian musicians. Humble in all his greatness.

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Photo by Camélia Hairane


During “The Opposite,” I had the chance to focus on Jonny Greenwood. Sorry. No, I forced myself to watch him. As he looked down at his guitar and his hair hung in his face, he made that guitar scream. I screamed because I did not know what else to do. My emotions were high. I felt happy seeing a man reach the point where his successes give him more than money; it gives him creative freedom.

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Going into a live show with a plan . . . I should have known.


Photo by Camélia Hairane


Tom Skinner and the complexity of the music immediately stole my attention. It surrounded me and took me in different directions but stayed perfectly together. It hinted at post-punk, at progressive rock, but because of Skinner, there was also a heavy jazz element that blanketed and augmented the traditional styles.

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The interlude between “Free In The Knowledge” and “A Hairdryer” was the moment that I wanted to see. In fact, it stopped time for everyone except for the three men on stage. The audience froze and stared as Jonny Greenwood sawed away at his guitar, creating a soundtrack before our eyes. Tom Skinner had freedom from structure and went at Thom Yorke like a tornado. The perfectionist was caught in a storm of musical madness. Yet, he could not run. He had to enter the vortex to be the thread that could lead the band into “A Hairdryer.” It was the best transition of the night.

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PAUSE

This is where I explain my lack of musical language. I need a better vocabulary, but I never truly understood it from a scholastic perspective.

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I have spent time listening to jazz artists. There are famous names that everyone listens to or has at least heard. However, a few helped me think of music beyond my simple laymen’s box.

Miles Davis is one of the musicians, especially in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, and On the Corner. These are the albums that I could never play at the bar while I was working because customers did not enjoy them. Yet, they taught me how jazz can begin together but dive, digress, divert, yet ultimately linger around a thread. It is a concept that I take to Phish.


In the audience, I can get lost in the sound of one of their extended jams. They push the sound and the boundaries, sometimes so much that I forget what song they took off on. However, they eventually bring me back to a solid, recognizable surface.


Another example is a jazz trio I have seen many times, Medeski Martin & Wood. The show I am discussing was on 04/19/04, in Arcata, California, in a small community center that held no more than 750 people. Their solos were extended beyond the normal length, spacey and complicated. At points, only one musician was on the stage. Yet, they always came together and found their way back into the music.

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STOP AND BREATHE. MY ANXIETY IS RISING.

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“Skrting On The Surface,” “Pana-Vision,” and “People On Balconies” slowed the pace again. Yet, Tom Skinner still impressed, possibly more than when they were really rolling. It was that restrained intensity that always wins me over. And those moments when Thom Yorke was watching, nodding, and enjoying the music as he listened to his bandmates play before joining in: I love these musicians.


The last two songs of the set were fire. Watching Yorke play the bass during “The Smoke” only matched hearing and seeing the attitude in his voice and his movements. It was perfectly his groove. Then into “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” a great set closer. It showcased why they came together: to play music and have a good time doing it.

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The Encore: Started with “Open The Floodgates,” chill and touching. Moved to “Colours Fly,” haunting, building, and going to become a fan favorite. Then, “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses.” I hope you stuck around because that was the song that you did not want to miss.

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The Smile 11/23/22 The Anthem Washington D.C.


Tom Skinner pushed two brilliant and well-known musicians into new territory. Even though Thom Yorke may be a perfectionist, he challenged himself because Jonny Greenwood loves showcasing his friend. And Tom Skinner, well, he was the fucking catalyst. He brought a layer of percussion Yorke had never experienced, even though he had played with some of the best drummers of his era. The Smile gave him moments to shine but also made him feel youthful and uneasy. The songs were what we expected, but the sound was far more complex than the studio album could suggest. And the feel, the vibe read:

Thom Yorke focuses on perfection in newness.

Jonny Greenwood IS music.

And Tom Skinner made his place right there with them.

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