Something curious happened in the world of Radiohead upon May’s release of “A Light for Attracting Attention,” the debut record from The Smile. For the first time in the 30-plus-year history of the British art-rock titans, two of its constituents — frontman Thom Yorke and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood — had teamed up for a full-length project outside the confines of the band. Members had gone solo before, in the form of folk records, glitchy electronica, and film scores, but The Smile was different.
Rounded out by jazz drummer Tom Skinner, the project calls to mind some of the looser, shaggier records of Yorke and Greenwood’s main band while pursuing its own distinctive avenues. The band’s Wednesday night show at Roadrunner — their second ever in North America — embraced that same eclectic spirit over two thrilling, shape-shifting hours.
All 13 “Attention” tracks made the set list, which opened with Yorke on piano for a jazzy intro to “Pana-Vision” before careening into “Thin Thing,” one of the album’s most insistent grooves. From there, the band covered all manner of sonic territory and texture in between. “Free in the Knowledge” began as a Yorke acoustic number before welcoming its rhythm section and unspooling to a droning outro featuring Greenwood’s bowed bass, while “Waving a White Flag” wove Skinner’s percussion in and out of a lattice of icy synths. Jittery lead single “You Will Never Work in Television Again” closed the main set with an emphatic post-punk punch.
Skinner largely kept to his kit throughout, but Yorke and Greenwood took part in a near-constant swapping of instruments, each taking a lead guitar, bass, or keys role as the songs dictated. Experimental composer Robert Stillman — whose ethereal ambient jazz opened the show — also lent an intermittent hand, coloring in details like the saxophone accents on “The Smoke.”
As dialed in as the band sounded on those already-released songs, the night’s most intriguing moments looked toward what’s next. A quarter of the set comprised new material, ranging from the menacing motorik of “Colours Fly” to a piece anchored by a growling bass line that might be the closest to stoner rock Yorke’s ever played. The weightiest of the bunch, sandwiched into the night’s four-song encore, explored post-rock deconstruction before swelling to a crashing conclusion over its seven minutes.
Given Yorke’s tendency to tinker with songs onstage before shelving them for years, or even decades, “what’s next” for this batch could entail a follow-up Smile record, a future Radiohead evolutionary phase, or some as-yet-unknown project. In the present though, the show proved that the extended universe of one of modern rock’s forward-thinking pillars remains as unpredictable and rewarding as ever.
At Roadrunner, Wednesday night