In a couple of weeks, Sam Smith will head to the UK and continue the victory lap that started at the beginning of the year in his homeland and continued with a few million followers in the U.S. this spring.
His debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” arrived stateside in May and with it came an immediate coronation of the 22-year-old Londoner with the achingly expressive voice.
“Stay with Me,” Smith’s breakout single in the U.S., showcased his affection for and understanding of soul music and the pleading ballad pushed him into the same conversations as Taylor Swift, Usher and Maroon 5 at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.
Through it all, Smith has remained endearingly low-key, approaching his burgeoning fame with a self-deprecating sense of wonderment.
At his sold-out concert Monday night at The Tabernacle, Smith continued to express astonishment at the rapturous reception that has likely greeted him throughout this tour.
From the moment the curtains parted to reveal his five-piece band elevated on platforms and three backup singers stage right, Smith looked happily surprised.
He stood, in his natty dark suit, in the center of streams of white light for “Nirvana,” making quick use of his trademark falsetto. The lush piano ballad “Leave Your Lover” – accented with cello – and the easy-swaying “I’m Not the Only One” included strong sing-alongs from the crowd, which seemed to know every lyric of every song Smith performed during his 75-minute set.
Smith isn’t a work-the-room type as much as he is a polite British guy; even his request to “Let me see your hands!” before “Restart” sounded more like a mannerly inquiry than a robust command.
While this courtliness worked perfectly well for the cozy confines of The Tabernacle, it is worth wondering how Smith will fare on a bigger stage – because no doubt that is in his future. He does have a knack for storytelling, though, and shared many insights with the audience about the evolution of several songs on his album.
For now though, he seems comfortable onstage and his voice, an intriguing mixture of creaminess and pain, soared on the chugging “Like I Can” and ably escalated on “La La La,” his collaboration with Naughty Boy (which earned him his first No. 1 in the U.K. in May 2013).
The potential for Smith’s voice is massive and his abilities were most finely displayed when he was supported by nominal instrumentation.
He sat down and clasped the mic before launching into his haunting version of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?”, his voice swooping high and low and turning the fizzy dance track into a contemplative poem.
Likewise, Smith captivated with his passionate delivery of “Lay Me Down,” which he performed with minimal accompaniment.
The buzz on Smith became so loud so fast that perhaps the comparisons to Adele, Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson are premature. But there is no denying that this young man with the sheepish smile is the real deal.