Sam Smith started the U.S. leg of his tour with a sold out show at U Street Music Hall on Wednesday night. Surprisingly, there wasn't an opener to build up anticipation for Mr. Smith. So the night was all about him. And when he took the stage, something about his boyish grin made you think that's the way he wanted it to be.
While his backing band looked like roadies, Smith was dressed like a mixture of fellow musical Brits, Boy George and George Michael. Who he also happens to sort of resemble; more so Boy George than Michael. His all black or dark look, works for the more dramatic music he has become known for. And a few fans came dressed almost exactly like him; a sign of their commitment and his rising popularity.
Sauntering to the front of the stage, he looked pleased to see so many faces looking back at him. That boyish grin, that stayed plastered on his face all night, was sweet and genuine. Somewhat contrasting the confidence he displayed during opening song "Nirvana." The title track from his recently released Nirvana EP, is a smooth R&B track about giving in to love, or perhaps more accurately lust or attraction. As Smith sings "I'm done with running so I give in to you," you wonder why he was running in the first place.
He switches gear as he goes into "Together," a track you would probably hear on a Justin Timberlake album. The song was a collaboration by Smith, Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Napes, and Disclosure. A little different from Smith's other collaborations with Disclosure, "Together" is a short groovy, jazzy track, that has Nile Rodgers written all over it. The audience seemed to enjoy it, and so did he.
Before he moved to the next song, Smith addressed the audience. "Thank you for coming out, it's amazing," he said politely. Then he let crowd know how "sick" it was to see the White House, and plugged his recently announced musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live next week. To which the crowd cheered and applauded. Smith will follow Jessie J's footsteps, both performing on SNL before they even put an album out in the U.S.
After his announcement, he let the crowd know he would be testing out some new tracks from his debut album. The first new song was "Leave Your Lover," a soulful ballad that put Smith's voice at the forefront, especially when he sneaks in the high notes. When he sings the last "leave your lover, leave him for me," you are left feeling like there wasn't a happy ending.
The other new track "I'm Not The Only One," was a mid-tempo song with an old school feel, that may or may not utilize a sample. And he followed that up with another song that you just can't quite pinpoint the sample, "I've Told You Now" showcased his incredible range. He slowly builds it up, you wait for it, then he hits those high notes, and you feel it in your chest.
Those are the types of songs that really make Smith standout, in the same way that Adele does. The heartbreaking, melancholic, love songs just resonate with their utterly piercing voices. And after he lead the crowd in a two step to "the only song in the show you can properly dance to,"—a late 80's R&B, Frankie Beverly sounding song—he brought the mood right back down. "It's going to get a little depressing guys, I'm sorry," he apologized. "I've never been in a relationship before and when I wrote this album, I wanted to write about love, but the only love I've experienced is loving someone who didn't love me back," he confessed.
"Not In That Way" captures that fear, depression, and general sadness of loving someone and knowing they don't love you in the same way you love them. Or at all, for that matter. Immediately he confesses, "I hate to say I love you...when you make it so clear you don't want me." If you've ever been in that predicament, you know just how shattering that can be. Working up the courage and nerve to let that person you love know it, only to have them not share your feelings. It's heartbreaking, and Smith conveys it beautifully.
Perhaps intentionally, he completely changes directions musically with the next song. His cover of Arctic Monkeys' "Do I Wanna Know" makes the song sound more like a 90's Missy Elliot hit. The song already gets your neck moving, but Smith makes it a little bit hipper and deeper. In the same way he makes Disclosure's "Latch" what it is. In introducing the song, he asked "who in the room knows Disclosure." To which nearly the whole audience cheered; many discovering Smith because of their collaborations. Before he launched into a stripped down version of the song, he thanked "everyone who bought the album," saying it has "been a completely mental year since we wrote" the song.
Then to continue his performance of hits, he went into "Money On My Mind," the lead single from his debut album In The Lonely Hour, which was number one on the UK charts. And like he thought, the crowd definitely knew it. The uptempo song, has a slight UK grime sound. Definitely more radio friendly then some of his tracks, it got the crowd moving. But it was clear that a lot of the audience were less familiar with "La La La," another UK hit he was featured on, by Naughty Boy. He did a nice jam version, with a sexy 90s R&B groove towards the end, that played him off stage.
After the obligatory pleas from the audience for him to return for an encore, Smith came back on stage with just his pianist and cellist. As he started "Lay Me Down," the crowd was right with him. One, if not his most powerful song, "Lay Me Down" is the best display of his vocal talent. A depressingly beautiful song, that brings up all the feelings of loss you have ever felt. Whether it was a family member or close friend, you feel that longingly to be with them again. Performing the acoustic version, is usual the best choice for a song like this, but the piano was overwhelming at times; not really letting his voice shine. Making for a less powerful impact.
He ended the night with "Stay With Me," a song with the ability to lift you up or bring you down, depending on your mood. You can see it as the background for a triumphant moment in a movie trailer, or someone passing away on a television drama. An interesting choice to close out his set, the song left the audience wanting to stay with him.
The 2014 Brit Critics Choice Award winner, Sam Smith has made his mark in the U.K, and is making strides to win over the U.S. With his amazing voice and sweet disposition, it seems like only a matter of time before he is a household name in the states.