Home Live Review Live Review: The Smile @ The National (Richmond, VA) — 7/5/23

Live Review: The Smile @ The National (Richmond, VA) — 7/5/23

Live Review: The Smile @ The National (Richmond, VA) — 7/5/23
The Smile perform at The National in Richmond, Virginia on July 5, 2023. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson)

The best thing about secondary market tours is the chance to see large bands in smaller venues than they normally play. Case in point, The Smile — Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood along with former Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner — played to a capacity crowd of just 1,500 Wednesday night at The National in Richmond.

I’ve actually seen Radiohead play club-sized venues twice back in the ’90s. Once at Irving Plaza and the surprise show at the 9:30 Club in 1998. Both were memorable; the Irving Plaza show is probably the single best concert I have ever seen. Look at that setlist! But I digress.

It took a while for The Smile’s debut album, A Light for Attracting Attention, to click for me. At first, I thought it sounded like a guitar-based version of A Moon Shaped Pool, but repeated listens drew out the different nuances and I enjoyed it much more once I realized that it was just Yorke and Greenwood seemingly enjoying discovering their guitars again. The riff from “The Smoke” in particular burrowed deep into my brain and still hasn’t left.

So I was overjoyed when they announced their first-ever US tour last year and also beyond bitter when I saw that their DC show was the day after Thanksgiving, and I’d already committed to being on the West Coast for the holiday. Keeping that theme, this tour brought them back to the area for the day after July 4. A much easier holiday to work around.

The Smile perform at The National in Richmond, VA. Photo by Kyle Gustafson.

A quick aside: If you’ve never been, Richmond’s The National is an amazing venue with good sightlines, great sound and lights and a kind and experienced staff. If there’s a show you see on the calendar that interests you, don’t hesitate to make the 90-minute drive south from DC.

The Smile took the stage promptly at 9pm after a short set from multi-instrumentalist Robert Stillman and started the night with “Pana-Vision,” a slow-building tune that features Yorke on piano, Greenwood on bass, Skinner on drums, and Stillman on saxophone. The set quickly picked up speed with the math-rock influenced “Thin Thing” followed by the stomping “The Opposite.” Yorke and Greenwood switched back and forth between guitar and bass all night, while also taking their occasional turn on piano and synthesizer. Their crew worked like a racing pit crew switching out instruments and moving gear around the stage after each song. It was fun to watch. 

Watch The Smile perform “The Opposite” live for KEXP on YouTube:

Obviously the set pulled heavily from their only album. “Speech Bubbles” and “Skirting the Surface” were intimate, yet soaring. Greenwood started “Speech Bubbles” on synthesizer before switching to play both piano and harp at the same time. Is there anything he can’t do? “A Hairdryer” and “You Will Never Work in Television Again” satisfied the rock fans in attendance.

The band are currently recording their sophomore album and, accordingly, played six new songs. “Read The Room” was a particular standout to me, starting off slow and powerful at the beginning and then picking up steam to finish with a groovy Geenwood riff they ride for a few minutes. It’s definitely going to be a live fave in the future. Another new song that’s already a live fave is the recently released “Bending Hectic,” which to me sounds like a beefier, fleshed-out version of their old b-side “Polyetheline (Parts 1&2).” It features the biggest, straight-ahead rock riff Greenwood and Yorke have recorded since the late ’90s. It’s fantastic.

The most mid-blowing song of the night, for me, was the ballad ”Open The Floodgates,” which opened the encore and was a surprise in the setlist. It’s another in a long list of ethereal Yorke piano ballads, with some understated but intricate guitar added by Greenwood. The crowd was utterly transfixed. You could have heard a pin drop. 

Watch The Smile perform “Open the Floodgates” live for KEXP on YouTube:

The band was in a great mood during the gig, especially Yorke. He actually motioned to the crowd for more applause twice during the set, something I’ve never seen him do. To be clear, the Richmond crowd was tremendous and gave the band plenty of energy and applause, he just asked for a bit more at that moment.

And I’ll pay just about any amount of money to watch Jonny Greenwood rock out and throw his hair back and forth while he plays guitar. Skinner’s drumming definitely fits into this band like a glove and his ability to play in front or behind the rest of the music gives his bandmates room to work that they maybe haven’t had before (All respect to Phil Selway!). They seem to be enjoying making music outside of the Radiohead umbrella, and we should all be excited to see what they come up with for album number two.


Thin Thing
The Opposite
Speech Bubbles
A Hairdryer
Waving a White Flag
Under Our Pillows
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
Colours Fly
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 (Thom Yorke song)

Here are more photos of The Smile performing at The National on July 5, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Kyle Gustafson.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here