From behind an Oz-like curtain, a booming voice created ground-shaking cheers from the crowd. A dramatic fabric drop revealed a musical deity, towering over the crowd on a 30-foot pedestal. Despite the superstar special effects at his sold-out Roy Wilkins show on Saturday night, British soul singer Sam Smith proved to be as down-to-earth as they come.
His recent achievements, however, are certainly larger than life. Smith’s debut album In the Lonely Hour was the third best-selling album of 2014, and currently rests at number two on the U.S. charts. He’s also up for a whopping six Grammy nominations including best new artist, record of the year, song of the year (“Stay With Me”), and album of the year. (“Stay With Me” is in the news today with the revelation that Smith and his co-writers have agreed to share credit with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne due to the song’s similarities to “I Won’t Back Down.”)
Though he may seem seasoned, the 22-year-old pop sensation has only been gigging properly for two years. Grinning giddily from ear to ear and relishing in the surges of applause, Smith was clearly still getting accustomed to the flash and fame. In his tailored black suit and shiny leather loafers, he fumbled rather awkwardly around the stage, portraying an endearingly genuine quality.
What he lacked in stage presence, Smith more than made up for in vocal prowess. Each song was masterfully delivered in an Olympic routine of octave acrobatics. Flawless falsetto combined with perfect pitch resulted in a night of spine-tingling chills and audible oh my gods.
Perhaps this is why his stripped-down performances of “My Funny Valentine” and “Lay Me Down” were the most striking of the evening. Forgoing his five-piece band and backup trio, Smith was back in his element—a piano and a simple spotlight as his only accompaniment. The audience, mostly clusters of couples, lovingly serenaded each other, hitting every vocal inflection along the way.
Smith took time between songs to explain his album, essentially flipping through diary entries one by one—his struggle with body image, the night he drunk-dialed his ex, his decision to delete his phone number, etc. He explains the horrible breakup was ultimately “good for the album, I guess [laughs]. Good for my career. And good for my heart.”
“People think I’m this really sad and lonely guy who writes poetry every night,” Smith continued, wanting his audience to know that he remains optimistic about romance. “I don’t want to make In the Lonely Hour Part 2,” he joked. “That would be pretty s**t.” He thus concluded his repertoire with the hopeful message of “Make It to Me,” a love letter to his future match. The enchanting acapella harmonies smoothly transitioned into the predictable crowd-pleasing finale “Stay With Me.”
“I don’t make music for money. I make music for you guys—and as a form of therapy,” Smith explained, though the audience needed no further reassurance. Graciously blowing kisses and smiling wide as ever, Smith bid his adieu humbled, healed, and human.
Opening for Smith was fellow Englishman George Ezra. The 21-year-old crooner surprised the crowd with a boyish, lanky demeanor of Michael Cera and the bellowing baritone of Johnny Cash. Ezra pulled material from his recent album “Wanted On Voyage,” possessing a rockabilly vibe with the ever-present indie-folk kick-drum pulse. His album documents a train trip across Europe, including his recent radio hit “Budapest.”
Sam Smith set list
Leave Your Lover
I’m Not the Only One
I’ve Told You Now
Like I Can
Lay Me Down
My Funny Valentine
La La La
Money On My Mind
Make It to Me
Stay With Me
Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College. In addition to writing, she is an avid enthusiast of all things banjo; biking; and breakfast for dinner.