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The Smile: Tiny Desk Concert

Surely my musical highlight for 2022 was this Tiny Desk concert from The Smile. Just how Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner were going to perform songs from their sonically adventurous album A Light for Attracting Attention was a puzzle not only to me but to the band. They arrived early, along with saxophonist Robert Stillman, to test out several tunes and figure out just what made sense behind my desk — minus the volume and effects that shape the album's sonic landscape. For roughly 90 minutes, the Tiny Desk crew was treated to a casual rehearsal, witnessing the band's creative companionship work itself out, settling on four songs.

I generally crank up the volume when I listen to The Smile, but as the band settled into the opening song, "Pana-vision," Thom Yorke's fingers gently stroking the piano keys with his voice not much louder, I was drawn in; the mood felt simultaneously mysterious and welcoming with the bass, sax and drums punctuating the now surreal atmosphere.

For keen eyes, you'll see Thom Yorke being handed a guitar for the second tune but all of a sudden he's playing bass while Jonny Greenwood's bass is suddenly a guitar. They had recorded another tune before "The Smoke," but it didn't make the final cut; they weren't happy with their performance. The set ends with my favorite song, "Skrting On the Surface," and we hear the vocals, guitar, bass and drums weaving so perfectly with lyrics that remind us how fragile our lives are and for me how these magical moments can be transcendent.

SET LIST

  • "Pana-vision"
  • "The Smoke"
  • "Skrting On the Surface"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Thom Yorke: vocals, piano, guitar, bass
  • Jonny Greenwood: bass, guitar
  • Tom Skinner: drums
  • Robert Stillman: saxophone
  • TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Bob Boilen
  • Director/Editor: Maia Stern
  • Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Maia Stern, Joshua Bryant, Sofia Seidel
  • Production Assistant: Jill Britton
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Marissa Lorusso, Hazel Cills, Kara Frame, Ashley Pointer
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.