Local Current Blog

Review: It’s onward and upward for Your Smith at First Avenue

Your Smith performs at First Avenue on Sept. 21, 2018. All photos by Pierre Ware for MPR.

A woman dressed in black and white stares into the middle distance, trying not to blink. Her eyes are wet. She holds an acoustic guitar to her chest, planted on a stage that’s big but not bare. She’s caught in a moment, hesitant to leave when she’s got so much pride and gratitude inside her. It looks like the last shot of a movie, but it’s not; it’s real life at First Avenue last night.

The “movie star” is Your Smith, whom many already know as Caroline Smith. After growing up in Detroit Lakes, Minn., she found her band the Good Night Sleeps through gigs at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis. Ten years later, she moved to Los Angeles. Recently, she switched her stage name from Caroline Smith to Your Smith, offering up a new Bad Habit EP to help folks get reacquainted.

Last night, Smith returned to her home state with those new songs in tow. Gone are the Good Night Sleeps, replaced by Liv Slingerland on bass, Nylo on keys, and Steph Barker on drums. Gone is most of her curly hair, cheekbones now sharpened and ears bare. Gone is her fear of reinvention, supplanted by a “secret” she learned in her 30s: “You can always change your mind.”

Curiously, Your Smith opened the show with “Magazine,” one of the hits from 2013’s Half About Being A Woman. She also sang the title track and lilting fave “Bloodstyle.” For her final encore song, she went with album closer “Child Of Moving On.”

However, most of the material dated to the Your Smith era, including four unreleased new songs and all four tracks from the EP. One of the former references an acid trip she experienced at a songwriting retreat in Nicaragua; “I’m [normally] not that kind of person,” she declared before the song. “But I was last January.”

Part of Your Smith’s trajectory has included a relationship with Neon Gold Records, the label home to Marina and the Diamonds, Charli XCX, and Tove Lo. By coincidence, Smith performed in Minneapolis the same day her labelmate Christine and the Queens released Chris; the two share a mounting sense of androgyny and more than one dance move. With her raised profile and now pedigree, it’s impossible to say Smith’s LA move hasn’t paid off.

My brain keeps returning to that last image of Your Smith on stage. If you squeezed the last few years of her life into a movie, you’d meet a promising but frustrated artist looking to move beyond “small-fry” status. You’d cheer for her as she finds opportunities, pushes through hard times, and puts in work. And you might cry along with her as she returns to the venue she dreamed of playing in high school. You’d likely stick around for the sequel.

Earlier on her creative journey was BAUM, an early-20s Angeleno who’s still learning vocal control. Baby queers and other young folks might feel a zap of empowerment via “This Body” or “Hot Water,” but her opening set needed more dynamic range and better warm-ups. I couldn’t even blame the crowd for talking through her cover of Bon Iver’s “715 – CRΣΣKS.”

Photos by Pierre Ware: