Sam Smith graced the stage of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco this past weekend, taking the crowd on a journey through songs of heartbreak and unrequited love from his first full-length album, “In The Lonely Hour.” Although his entrance was grand, descending from the ceiling on a podium in a dapper grey suit and his usual oversized white collar, he remained charming and endearing throughout the show.
Smith told the crowd that he wanted to use this tour to explain his album, and he certainly accomplished the task. He drew fans in and added another layer of interest to his work by telling stories and providing background on his songs throughout the show. He started off the evening with “Life Support,” a slow song with subdued keyboard that put his spectacular vocals on display. Bathed in blue light, Smith worked the front of the stage, backed up by two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer and three background singers raised in a half circle behind him.
The night was a series of discrete but subtle shifts in mood, using lights and changing tempo to move the audience through the concert. He picked up the pace briefly with the modern and jazzy “Together,” to get the crowd moving, before slowing the tempo down for a ballad about unrequited love, “Leave Your Lover,” his personal favorite from the record. The lights shifted to red as he played one of his more popular singles, “I Know I’m Not The Only One,” about a cheating lover.
Before many of his songs, he described the circumstances that led him to write them, which provided a unique glimpse into Smith as a person. Smith’s personal anecdotes were surprisingly very powerful. He explained, “believe it or not, I write my own shit,” and shared how his recent album was the first honest music he had written. Although Smith has been writing and playing music since his youth, he said it took moving to London and “kissing too many guys” before he was able to write music he liked, as opposed to music he thought would satisfy others.
He then played another ballad, “I’ve Told You Now,” which he described writing after getting drinks in London and telling someone “everything when he should have told them nothing.” The song was punctuated with Smith hitting high notes that displayed his amazing vocal range.
As he reached the midpoint of the show, Smith segued again to faster-paced, danceable songs “Like I Can” and “Restart.” Recounting that as recently as one year ago, he had been playing venues of 100 people, Smith seemed genuinely grateful and in awe that he was now playing to an arena of thousands. He then took a moment to strip everything back to his roots, just him and a piano player. The moment brought a sense of intimacy to the expansive concert hall. Smith got even more personal before singing “Good Thing,” sharing that he had just gone through a breakup and was able to relate to his record about heartbreak again on a deep level.
The set ended with an exuberant mash-up of “Money On My Mind” and “Finally” by Cece Peniston before the lights lowered for a minute and Smith came out to finish the night off with his biggest hits — acoustic versions of “Latch,” “Make It To Me” and “Stay With Me.”
For an artist with so many self-described “depressing love songs,” Smith expertly played with tempo and mood to keep up the energy throughout the night. The lights shifted with the tempo, from soothing blues to exciting strobes and passionate reds, as he presented his beautiful voice, dramatic compositions and charming personality.
Contact Gabriela Groth at gngroth ‘at’ stanford.edu.