July 18, 2018
You wouldn't know it by his music, but Sam Smith is actually a pretty happy guy in concert.
In front of a nearly sold-out crowd at Houston's Toyota Center, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter tempered his otherwise melancholy set with charming anecdotes, plenty of thank-yous and multiple calls for the crowd to sing and dance with him.
"I have to admit, last year, after I wrote (The Thrill of It All), I was thinking about this tour, and I was shit-scared because I realized that my music is quite depressing sometimes," he told the crowd with a chuckle just three songs into the performance.
"And I don't want you guys to leave this room tonight feeling sad and feeling down. We've been working so hard on making sure that you leave this arena feeling happy and feeling good... Can you do that for me tonight, Houston?"
As the crowd roared its approval, Smith got back to work. Bemoaning a relationship that never was, he began to sing the first track he wrote after moving to London: "Lay Me Down." His soaring vocals were supplemented by his sea of fans, whose voices lifted his even higher.
Performing the first verse a cappella, Smith somehow made the Toyota Center feel downright intimate. Despite its nearly 20,000 seats, I felt as if I was sitting mere feet from the stage at a private performance where Smith was laying his soul bare.
When the sorrowful track concluded, Smith cracked a coy smile and muttered a muted thank-you as fans cheered. It all threw me for a loop, to be honest.
For years, I've heard Smith croon about heartache on the likes of "Stay With Me" and "Too Good at Goodbyes," so I expected Wednesday's show to be a bit more forlorn. Instead, Smith and his wildly talented bandmates somehow turned it into a party. A breakup party, if you will.
Supported by four backup singers, a bassist, a guitarist, a cellist, a pianist and a drummer, Smith was surrounded by talent. While his voice was the evening's focal point, his band was never far behind, and they felt as much a part of the show as Smith himself.
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He performed the aforementioned hits and plenty of deep cuts — if you can even call them that this early in his career. "I'm Not The Only One" brought the crowd to its feet, and "Latch" saw fans raising their cell phone lights high into the air and illuminating the arena. Even one of his weakest tracks, "Money on My Mind," was well received and did well to brighten up the set list.
Near the end of the show, Smith performed "One Day At A Time," which celebrated love rather than lamenting it. If that sounds odd for Smith, that's because it is. But there's a caveat: This track wasn't about romantic love. It was instead a celebration of the kind of love shared by close friends, the kind who share a bottle and a cigarette while discussing life.
Perhaps that's where Smith can find some less depressing subject matter: his friends. He spoke fondly of them Wednesday night and said that being away from them for such long stretches of time has been the hardest part of touring. It sounded like they provide him with a strong foundation, and they could be a source of joy for him in future songs.
In the meantime, the sad stuff seems to be working fine.