Better Than: Drunk dialing the person you’re in love with.
United Palace Theatre is primarily a church that moonlights as a movie theatre and music venue. The entrance is devastatingly beautiful and overwhelming, making it the perfect host for Sam Smith’s grandiose voice, earnest delivery and soulful tunes. In their red velvet seats, patrons clutched their hearts and raised their hands as if engaging in a new type of spiritual experience on a Thursday evening.
See also: Sam Smith SLAYED Saturday Night Live
Smith’s songs are heartbreaking. Paradoxically drenched in both hope and remorse simultaneously, Smith’s debut LP In the Lonely Hour is a study in the millions of things you can do to a heart. The stories are fluid and connected, aiding the belief that the album is one long tale about a singular experience of heartbreak Smith lived through. Before “I’ve Told You Now,” the British singer noted that only five, including the song he was about to sing, were about that experience. Yet, even with the songs cut and pasted from his canon and that of artists he loves, they flow together like a lengthy story of how love can can both hurt and heal. In a fashion he has quickly mastered, the tale begins and ends on a hopeful note.
Opening with the sultry “Nirvana,” Smith was welcomed with bellowing screams from the theatre. It was thankful in that moment that he didn’t begin with one of his softer hits. The setlist overall reads like a depressing, torn up love letter, especially when the trifecta of “Leave Your Lover,” “I’m Not the Only One,” and “I’ve Told You Now” arrive one after the other in the most emotionally charged block of songs throughout the night. Beyond his originals, Smith has become lauded for his vocally astounding, though sappy, covers. He included several, with Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” and Ry X’s “Berlin” sandwiching his own “Good Thing.” The former was triumphant, to say the least, with the famous Houston dance single stripped down while remaining faithful to her legendarily booming vocals.
While Smith’s style is mostly melancholic classic soul, he’s been featured on a couple of dance singles that found homes in the latter half of the set. Naughty Boy’s “La La La” came first, and it was unclear whether staying true to the upbeat quality of the song was welcome or not amidst the more heart wrenching feel of the night. It was one of the few danceable moments of the night and the only misfit in the group, though the song itself is excellent. He opened his encore with an acoustic version of Disclosure’s “Latch,” the ultimate sleeper hit that was originally released in 2012 but has only found massive, widespread popularity in the US this year. The slowed down and intimate version allowed Smith to showcase the connection between the romance of “Latch” and the kind found on his solo work.
Other highlights included the mash-up of his early single “Money On My Mind” with CeCe Peniston’s cathartic dance hit “Finally” at the end of his main set, which was a more organic dance moment than that of “La La La.” The closing pair of “Make It To Me” and “Stay With Me” in the encore were particularly moving. Smith described the former as a “massive mating call” though “Stay With Me” could fit that description as well. Both were hopeful, introspective notes to end on, allowing both the audience and Smith to mend their hearts just a bit before heading home.
Critical Bias: I’ve been on a Mariah Carey kick for a bit now, so Smith’s sappiness was more than welcome by me.
Overheard: (while exiting the theatre) “I’m really upset that he stopped singing.” “Before the encore?” “No right now! He should still be singing right now!”
Random Notebook Dump: Seated venues are always strange because the audience never collectively knows when to sit and when to stand. Smith’s show was better experienced seated.
Leave Your Lover
I’m Not the Only One
I’ve Told You Now
Like I Can
How Will I Know (Whitney Houston cover)
Berlin (Ry X cover)
La La La (Naughty Boy cover)
Lay Me Down
Money On My Mind / Finally (CeCe Peniston)
Latch (Disclosure cover)
Make It To Me
Stay With Me
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 19, 2014