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Marquette Wire

The Smile: Pitchfork Headliner Recap

Photo by Keifer Russell

“In a society that feels increasingly chaotic, his music has helped me feel less alone in my experience of the world,” my mom said to me when I talked to her about Thom Yorke just before he took the stage with his band The Smile, headlining day one of Pitchfork Music Festival.

I think my mom puts into words the core of what makes everything Thom Yorke works on so powerful. It makes you feel less alone. Watching the live experience that is The Smile set alongside thousands of people certainly made me feel less alone, and was an incredibly powerful and emotional experience that will stick with me forever.

The Smile is made up of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame, joined by drummer Tom Skinner. They released their debut album, “A Light For Attracting Attention,” last year and have been performing ever since. Their set was one of the more highly anticipated sets at Pitchfork, with high expectations for the setlist, production, and vocals. These expectations were met on every level — and in some cases exceeded them — creating a beautiful and memorable end to day one.

One of the most impressive aspects of the set was the live production. The Smile has some incredibly complex songs, with synth layers, several different instruments and immaculate mixing that I expected to be difficult to recreate live. I was very wrong. Whoever sound-engineered the show did a beautiful job and every single song sounded just as good as the recordings, if not better.

The band deserves most of the credit though, as every member is a masterclass musician at the top of their game. Greenwood and Yorke switched instruments several times throughout the show, with both of them rotating through bass, guitar, synth, and keyboard. The ability of these musicians to perform such complex compositions was incredible to watch, and at moments, left me in complete awe.

Another highlight of the set was the vocals — if you’ve heard Thom Yorke’s vocal performances before, you know he has an incredibly unique voice. I was skeptical that he would be able to deliver a performance that lived up to the recordings, but to my pleasant surprise he exceeded them. Enhanced with some select echoing during some songs, his voice brought each song together into a stunning auditory experience that transcended the studio recordings.

All these elements came together in their performance of “Bending Hectic,” the emotional and musical climax of the show. An eight minute long, slow build masterpiece, “Bending Hectic” was only just released on streaming platforms but has quickly taken hold of me. Thom’s voice is front and center for the first five and a half minutes, as the song instrumentally builds into a piercing synth line. Experiencing that synth line, and the following drop into the thunderous finale of the song made me fall to my knees and was one of the most unreal musical experiences I have gotten the pleasure of viewing live.

This set was incredibly important to me. Thom Yorke’s music serves as a connecting thread between me and both of my parents, and my mom’s words struck with me as I went into the set. While I experienced the music, I thought a lot about my family, and those who are closest to me. The emotional threads that stretched from the performance, to those in my life who I am closest with created a deeply personal production, that made the end of the night that much more special.

The Smile delivered a memorable end to Day One of an amazing music festival. Delivering instrumental perfection, impressive production, and heart wrenchingly beautiful live vocals, The Smile had it all. I cried, I danced, I stared at the stars and at the end of the night I felt like my heart and soul were fulfilled.

This story was written by Sam Baughn. He can be reached at [email protected] 


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About the Contributors
Sam Baughn
Sam Baughn, General Manager for Marquette Radio
Sam Baughn is a senior from Stoughton, Wisconsin, majoring in Digital Media and minoring in English Literature. He is the General Manager of Marquette Radio for the 2023-2024 year. Outside of his work with MUR, Sam pursues amateur photography and enjoys cooking and baking. He is immensely excited to work with an incredible team to push MUR to new heights, build systems for long-term growth and create new events and programming.
Keifer Russell
Keifer Russell, Staff Photographer
Keifer Russell is a junior from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin studying digital media and public relations and is a Staff Photographer of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire he enjoys rock climbing, photography (figures), as well as finding and listening to new music. He is very excited to further refine his photographic content over the next year

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