The Smile @ MTelus

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When you talk about the musical highlight of the year in the 514, some may have you believe it’s Osheaga, or maybe Jazz Fest, but for those of us who roll in alternative circles, tonight’s show is surely the pinnacle of Montreal shows in 2022.  Artists’ side projects often have the habit of skipping us, preferring to focus on Toronto, New York, and/or Boston when covering the North-East of our continent, so on the occasions when we are included, it’s pretty special.  And tonight’s side project is about as big as you can get, being part of the debut tour of The Smile, which is 2/3 of one of the biggest bands over the past 30 years.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen; tonight, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, as well as Sons Of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, will be gracing the intimate confines of MTelus.  You know the band is a big deal when you can say that about a room that holds well over two thousand people!  

The anticipation is palpable as soon as you walk in through the doors, and when the lights drop at 9.15pm, the roar around the room is deafening.  The band meekly wanders out, with Thom heading straight to the front of the stage, curiously surveying the throng before him as if surprised at the turnout.  Tickets sold out in a matter of hours, so never any doubt about anything other than a packed house tonight!  The Same kicks off the set in spectacular manner, with red strip lights bathing the stage as Kid A-esque electronica resonates around the room.  A good chunk of the crowd are already singing along by the time the “we are all the same!” chorus rings out, showing just how much the band’s stellar debut record “A Light for Attracting Attention” has been digested and appreciated over the course of 2022.  Strobes explode during an incendiary Thin Thing, with both Jonny and Thom tearing at their guitars with incredible ferocity, the chaos reminiscent of the solo outro of Paranoid AndroidThe Opposite sees the red lights turn green, but the pace is no less frenetic.  

After Thom politely addresses us with a “merci tout le monde, ça va?”, the pace slows down with a delicate Speech Bubbles, layering in a harp from somewhere; not sure if it’s Jonny or another guy in the shadows at the back of the stage, but either way, it’s pretty magical.  Free In The Knowledge gets another singalong, which sounds even more prominent compared to the first one, given that only Thom’s acoustic, Jonny’s piano, and Tom’s soft drums provide any competition to the hundreds of voices.  Jonny moves to the bass midway through to take it on a somewhat funk detour before ending the song playing the bass with a violin bow.  In conjunction with a suddenly darkened stage and a few odd strobe flashes, it’s a spectacular conclusion.  The song merges seamlessly into A Hairdryer, which is driven largely by a Jonny bassline so low on the fretboard his hands almost touch.  Waving A White Flag twists the electronica into an almost Kraftwerk mould.

Soon after, Thom allays any concerns we might have about this side project disappearing into the history books after this run of dates: “we’re gonna play some new songs; we already made 1 record, and we’re about to make another one!”  Subsequent new song, Colours Fly sees show opener Robert Stillman join on saxophone to add to the moody vibes; the big clap-along that greets the breakdown shows how much the crowd are already into it on first listen.  We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings is a thunderous bass-driven third-wave powerhouse that detonates into a cacophony of strobes and guitars; it’s not the first time tonight I find myself amazed at the contrast of this music with how Radiohead sounded on their last album, 2016’s melancholy A Moon Shaped Pool.

New song Bending Hectic strips things down again, with an almost improv feel, and Skrting on the Surface continues the delicate vibes, really showcasing Thom’s distinctive howl, which sounds as timeless as ever, not changing a jot over the past 30 years or so.  He moves to the piano at centre stage on the ethereal Pana-Vision, finally affording a full, unimpeded view of the great one himself for those of us positioned near the speaker stack under the left balcony for the duration of the show!  Thankfully I am almost 6ft tall, so could see everything above the shoulders without too many problems, but perhaps the shorter among us weren’t so lucky!  

Robert Stillman rejoins with his sax for People on Balconies, before Thom blazes out that mind-bending disjointed bass riff of The Smoke to another epic singalong.  You Will Never Work in Television Again closes out the main set in furious, almost punk-rock manner as a crowd surfer undulates towards the front of the stage, where Jonny is clawing at his bass.

After a brief pause, the band returns with Thom back at the central piano for the ballad-y Open the Floodgates; new song, Read the Room, is equally relaxing.  However, any chance of the encore fading out quietly into the night is promptly obliterated as the show closes with 2009’s cataclysmic FeelingPulledApartByHorses from Thom’s own solo catalogue.  Thom patrols the front of the stage with his bass as strobes blare out, and Jonny demolishes what remains of his guitar to close out the incredible 90-minute show in furious fashion.  

Fantastic.  Phenomenal.  Incredible.  Remarkable.  Extraordinary.  Exceptional.  

Sometimes there just aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary.


  1. The Same
  2. Thin Thing
  3. The Opposite
  4. Speech Bubbles
  5. Free in the Knowledge
  6. A Hairdryer
  7. Waving a White Flag
  8. Colours Fly
  9. We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
  10. Bending Hectic
  11. Skrting on the Surface
  12. Pana-Vision
  13. People on Balconies
  14. The Smoke
  15. You Will Never Work in Television Again


  1. Open the Floodgates
  2. Read the Room
  3. FeelingPulledApartbyHorses (Thom Yorke song)

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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