by Matt Kelchner
2014 was a breakout year for the crooning British singer Sam Smith to say the least. Last year’s debut album, In The Lonely Hour, has produced hit after hit. The record has also earned Smith six Grammy nominations, including album, record and song of the year, as well as best new artist.
Perhaps the best example though of his raise to fame is the difference in venues for his first two headlining shows in Philadelphia. Back on March 21st of last year, Smith played his first show at Boot and Saddle. On Tuesday he made a stop at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, jumping from a capacity size of just over a hundred to a few thousand.
The opener for the evening was hard rocker George Ezra. With earlier than normal door times and a heavy flow of traffic getting to the arena we, along with much of the audience for that evening, missed Ezra’s set. Ezra will be back, though, come March, playing shows at the Trocadero Theatre and The Electric Factory.
The night began for Smith when the house lights shut off and all that could be seen where the drawn outlines of two faces on a large backdrop. As the roar of the fans quickly grew, the backdrop fell, revealing Smith standing high on a podium. His backing band were on their own raised platforms, with each performer having their own. As Smith belted out the beginnings to his first song, “Life Support”, slowly his platform lowered until it met the crowd stage.
Smith performed most of In The Lonely Hour, included a few bonus cuts on the album. Hits like “Lay Me Down” and “Like I Can” were mixed with deeper cuts such as “Together” and “Leave Your Lover”. In between songs, Smith opened up to the crowd, sharing tidbits on the songwriting process or personal stories that were the basis of the songs. This, paired with his humbleness and gleaming smile, turn a massive arena show back into a small and subtle encore at Boot and Saddle again.
Along with tracks off his debut album, Smith threw in a few surprises for the crowd. One was a delightful take on Hal McIntyre “My Funny Valentine” that didn’t quite hit with his younger audience, but nonetheless sounded incredible. The other was his collaboration with Naughty Boy, “La La La”, one that the crowd instantly knew. Smith ended the set with one of his first singles, “Money On My Mind” and included parts of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” as one last surprise for his fans.
After a brief break, Smith and his band came back out for a three song encore. Starting off with the song that gave most of us our first taste of him and his voice, Smith performed a stripped down version of Disclosure’s “Latch”. With the moving dance beats taken away, Smith’s voice was left almost naked and bare, but gave the crowd a real taste of just how powerful it is. Following that up was “Make It To Me”, a bonus cut off In The Lonely Hour that Smith co-wrote with one half of Disclosure, Howard Lawrence. Smith finished off his evening with “Stay With Me”, arguably his biggest and most well known single.
Smith admitted to the crowd that Tuesday night was just his second headlining arena show, and the nervousness and butterflies that came with that. He proved that night that he is more than capable and ready to take things to the next level. Don’t be surprised to see him playing the Wells Fargo Center next time he’s in town as things are only looking up for the young British star.