The Smile Highlight Their Chops with 'Live at Montreux Jazz Festival, July 2022'
Published Jan 03, 2023The Smile have been keen to emphasize that they're a live band first: they premiered most of their songs to the world through livestreams before even announcing last year's A Light for Attracting Attention, and they've been gradually uploading tracks to their YouTube channel ever since. Their concerts emphasize the trio's chops — something that can get lost in the atmospheric soundscapes of their LP, when any amount of studio trickery could be involved.
Live at Montreux Jazz Festival, July 2022 confirms that, yes, they can faithfully recreate those arrangements on stage with just the trio of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner. It's an impressive feat — something that brings out the jazz foundation of the 7/8 rhythm of "Pana-vision" and emphasizes the hard-hitting intricacy of "You Will Never Work in Television Again." Without Nigel Godrich's atmospheric production, the Smile sound more distinct from Radiohead than they did in the studio, although hearing it here is understandably a little less dizzying than actually witnessing it in-person.
Live at Montreux doesn't include any of the new material that the Smile were performing by the time they swung through Toronto in the fall, so it begs the question: will anyone actually listen to this live album beyond the first couple plays? Or will they simply return to A Light for Attracting Attention? With the exception of the medley of "Free in the Knowledge" (featuring a seasick synth drone in place of the strings of the album version) and "A Hairdryer," which are bridged by a gorgeous passage of ambient free jazz, this set doesn't offer much that the album didn't already. The best live albums are ones that clearly distinguish themselves from their studio counterparts (Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York, for example), and this isn't that.
But as a way to cap off 2022 while refocusing attention on their live show, Live at Montreux adds to (rather than detracts from) the impression that the Smile are successfully carrying the torch for Radiohead during this period of uncertainty. And given that aforementioned new material they've been performing, their future is looking just as bright.