Live Report: The Smile – The Roundhouse, London | Live
“London crowds are awful”, my date observes three songs in Thomas Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner of Sons Of Kemet’s first night at Camden’s Roundhouse. “Why aren’t they moving?”
Indeed, the audience, mostly cerebral guys of old age and waning hair, didn’t seem particularly ready for a boogie. Which is weird, actually, because this new Radiohead side-hustle is quite bristling with firecrackers.
The ‘Pana-Vision’ opener isn’t a banger, but it’s gorgeous, and as the London mandem greets the guys onstage with a handful of ‘woos’ and medium-intensity applause, Thom leans in his piano to sketch a strangely pretty riff.
They make very special music, these boys. Sublime melodies, exquisite arpeggios, snapping cod-jazz rhythms. They’ve managed to thread the toughest needles, creating some extremely interesting songs that connect, but avoid every cliché imaginable. It’s a masterclass, and a privilege to see.
And yuck, his voice. It’s even better live than on the file. I am tempted to describe it as the voice of an angel. But not one of those lame, cherubic angels. I mean one of those inter-dimensional, vengeful, many-eyed bastards of the Old Testament. The falsetto, of such devastating purity. Those grunts, so laden with divine insolence, his piercing screams from honest to goddamn. Goosebumps, mate.
“Machines make mistakes,” indignant Thom at one point. “Almost as much as us”. There are some technical issues – Jonny’s bass cuts out, the end of one or two songs is a bit messy. Honestly, it humanizes them. I completely agree. Good to see Jonny banging on a Gibson again, still rocking the bangs frame of a 19-year-old.
‘Free In The Knowledge’, that lilting song from the album, did well, and it was lovely to see the steep face of Thom’s Albert Steptoe crinkle up in a smile. Ditto the bouncing new number “Friend Of A Friend”, aka “People On Balconies”, perhaps a cheeky nod to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan which apparently vibrated loudly in the fancy pants guest list.
The climactic banger “You’ll Never Work On TV Again” was an incendiary highlight, what a track, and more or less thrilled the crowd. A guy near me almost spilled part of his pint.
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Words: Andy Hill
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