“Good evening,” said Philip Selway. “And welcome to our quiet night in.”
He wasn’t joking. Thursday night in Tokyo, the 43-year-old Radiohead drummer clutched a small-scale acoustic guitar and unveiled for the first time his new backing band, playing enchanting renditions of all 12 songs from the Japanese edition of his debut solo album ‘Familial’-and plenty more besides.
Selway kicked off his tour of Japan, Europe, and Britain at Duo, a plush Tokyo venue in the youth district of Shibuya. It speaks volumes that Selway’s songs are short, sweet acoustic pop tunes-far more accessible than the glitchy electronica of Thom Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ or Jonny Greenwood’s various soundscapey movie scores.
Dressed in white slacks, a white waistcoat, and white shirt with pale stripes, the jovial Selway acted like he was entertaining guests at a wedding rather than a crowd of Japanese fans. He cracked self-deprecating quips-for example, introducing sticksman Alex Thomas as being “here to show me how a real drummer does it.”
The night’s intimate tone was bolstered by the softness of his music: warm, tender acoustic nuggets whose cadence flowed as much from Selway’s percussive fingerpicking as it did from the drumkit, punctuated by flourishes of violin and whispered backing harmonies.
Instrument-swaps were common throughout the 80-minute set. Nu-folk artist Adem Ilhan was on bass and double-bass duties, though he also played box accordion and sang. The other three members of the group have all been plucked from Bat For Lashes’ live band: Caroline Weeks (also a solo artist) played keyboard, xylophone and flute; Kath Mann switched between keyboard, violin and bowed saw; and drummer Thomas even picked up the bass at one point.
At this fragile volume, Selway’s voice stood out magnificently, the mic picking up every tiny nuance. Each bout of reverent applause came as a deafening shock; this being Tokyo, there was no heckling, no chatter, just total immersion.
As the album title suggests, Selway’s songs are laced with references to his kith and kin. ‘A Simple Life’ and sublime non-album track ‘Days And Nights’ are odes to his wife; the ‘In Rainbows’-esque ‘The Ties That Bind Us’ to his children; ‘Broken Promises’ to his parents; and ‘The Witching Hour’ to the bandmates with whom he became famous (the song’s about a camping trip they went on together).
The clickety-clack of drumsticks on rims, deep double-bass, and ethereal bowed saw propelled the dark, simmering ‘The River’, which Selway announced as his newest song. Much older was a version of ‘Slide,’ a track he recorded for singer-songwriter Lisa Germano’s 1998 album of the same name; Ilhan inherited Germano’s vocals and played the box accordion as Selway touched the xylophone keys gently with a violin bow.
Album-closer ‘What Goes Around’ ended the set, with Selway performing a delicate synth line over a simple drum loop, as Ilhan, Weeks, and Mann played recorders. One by one, the five musicians congregated around the drumkit and bashed out interlocking rhythms on one drum or cymbal each before reaching a gentle climax, exiting the stage and then coming back on for a soothing performance of ‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ which Selway joked he’d written for Lou Reed in the ’60s.
With a new Radiohead album reportedly almost complete, it won’t be long till Selway returns to his usual spot: a drum stool at the back of a cavernous stage. All the more delicious, then, to spend an intimate summer evening in his company as talented frontman.
By Some Miracle
A Simple Life
Days and Nights
Every Spit and Cough
All in All
The Ties That Bind Us
All Eyes on You
Don’t Look Down
The Witching Hour
What Goes Around
Pale Blue Eyes