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Concert Wed Apr 23 2014
Sam Smith's "Nirvana" is one of those songs. You know, the kind that you listen to five (okay, maybe ten) times in a row because the experience of hearing it floods dopamine to your brain over and over, making you feel noticeably happier, emotional, and hungry for another listen despite having it on a loop. So when Sam Smith kicked off his show last night at the Vic with "Nirvana," you can imagine the insanity the opening notes inspired. Those kinds of songs come around only a few times a year, but when they do, they are gift. And that is precisely what Sam Smith is: a gift to the music world.
Known to most as the voice behind painfully hip electronic brethren Disclosure's 2013 summer anthem, "Latch," it was really only a matter of time until Smith broke out as an artist in his own right. With a Boy George meets modern R&B meets Marvin Gaye vibe (no easy feat to achieve those comparisons!), Smith's solo EP, Nirvana is a modern spin on a classic gospel soul sound. But honestly, the acoustic version of "Latch" alone practically guarantees Smith success. Factor in his SNL appearance a few weeks ago and we're looking at an artist on the cusp of wide recognition and acclaim.
Chicago was the last stop on his American tour, and Smith seemed to savor the moment: as an artist, it was also probably the last show he'd perform before the release of his album. Last night, he occupied the rare space between breakout star and up-and-comer leaving the edge of obscurity--few situations are as gratifying to be in, both for an audience (who feels like they're experiencing something exclusive and exciting) and as a musician, who must know they are at the end (and beginning) of an era. It was almost bittersweet. Almost.
Lucky for us, Smith played two unreleased songs slated for his June album, In the Lonely Hour. One was an absolute burner of a ballad; the other had a bouncing beat that recalled the swing of a Charles Bradley single. Smith's impeccable band filled his songs with the right splice of R&B and soul, while Smith himself owned the stage with confidence.
Despite his assurance, Smith's face never lost its reverence. He would frequently pause and chat between songs, all the while expressing a deep gratitude to the audience and his fans at large. It was as if he couldn't believe the massive, sold-out crowd at the Vic was there just to see him--ha! Listening to him sing, it's laughable that he feels any modicum of surprise--with a voice like that, and an already impressive wealth of actually good songs with no album out yet, even the most basic fan can see Smith's career will be a slam dunk. But still, it's refreshing to see an artist humbled by his success, not inflated by it.
"No offense to the UK," he said while beaming, "But you guys are way better." Cue the insane screaming from the crowd which didn't need stoking in the first place.
The energy at the Vic was the special kind reserved for breakout artists who deserve every fan and download and accolade and positive review that is coming to them. It was a joy to see and hear. Smith's voice is otherworldly: He didn't miss a single note, didn't skimp on any belting of hard-to-reach registers, and was essentially a perfect, humble Brit gentleman. And let's not forget: He has an absolutely killer coif.