BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
There is something refreshingly old-fashioned about Sam Smith.
He dresses well. He is gracious. And he’s cut from the mold of actual singers, not wacky pop stars or performers who primarily dance and shoehorn in a few songs atop a guide vocal.
Smith is just a humble guy with a stellar voice who, a few weeks from gaining massive exposure from his six Grammy Awards nominations, still appears genuinely overcome with awe at his success.
Almost exactly three months since his impressive Atlanta debut at The Tabernacle, Smith launched his month-long winter tour with a sold-out appearance the Fox Theatre on Friday – and his increased confidence in the spotlight was noticeable.
Though he maintained a stoic expression as a halo of lights introduced him in his impeccably tailored suit for the opening “Life Support,” Smith quickly turned giddy and smiley as he requested the audience to “sing with me.”
“I’m so happy to be here right now. It’s officially my first work day, but I can’t call this work,” he said with a grin before noting that Atlanta was his “favorite place” to play on the last tour (hey, Boston and Toronto, let us know how you fared).
Smith’s supple voice soared over the lithe groove of “Together” and he engaged in some hip shimmying during the vintage soul bop of “I’m Not the Only One.”
Even though much of Smith’s material is lonely hearts club balladry – evidenced on his much-lauded debut, “In the Lonely Hour” – he’s crafted a well-paced live show that kept the extremely diverse crowd standing throughout, particularly on the glistening slice of soul-pop that is “Like I Can” and the ‘70s-era soul throwback “Restart.”
Smith, 22, ably worked the corners of the Fox stage and shared personal stories about how his album didn’t come from being “a depressed child writing poetry,” but, rather a place of honesty in response to heartbreak.
He carved out a portion of the brisk, 75-minute show to “do things naturally” and unveiled an emotional rendition of “Good Thing,” backed only by piano, and a hushed, beautiful version of “Lay Me Down,” which spotlighted the purity of his cherubic voice.
Fans of Smith’s aching recast of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” missed its inclusion at Friday’s show. But instead, Smith offered a striking cover of “My Funny Valentine,” which he imbued with smoky sexiness.
While Smith augmented the production of his live set with sleek lighting and a new set of mirrored cubes for his five-piece band to perform atop, he might want to consider a video screen in the future, especially as his audiences continue to grow.
After an hour, and a well-executed rendition of the tricky rhythms of “Money on My Mind” mixed with CeCe Peniston’s 1991 mirror ball classic “Finally,” Smith exited the stage but quickly returned — blowing a kiss to the front row — for a three-song encore.
The gentle chug of “Latch” was followed by Smith and his tremendous trio of backup singers clustering on the side of the stage to harmonize on “Make it to Me.”
“This has been the best start to a tour,” Smith proclaimed before the bass drum pumped the opening of “Stay with Me.” The mega-selling gospel-inflected ballad inspired much hand-waving and singing from the crowd and many more smiles from Smith, who is clearly enjoying the present as he embarks on his next chapter.
Atlanta set list
“Leave Your Lover”
“I’m Not the Only One”
“I’ve Told You Now”
“Like I Can”
“Lay Me Down”
“My Funny Valentine”
“La La La”
“Money on My Mind” (with CeCe Peniston’s “Finally”)
“Make it to Me”
“Stay with Me”