On Aug. 8, 2013, Sam Smith played his first New York City show. It was at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side to around a hundred people.
On Thursday night, about a year-and-a-half later, he sold out Madison Square Garden.
He promised he had the same butterflies before both: “Holy shit. This is a really big, big place isn’t it?” were some of his first words to the crowd. But over the course of his 75-minute set, he made a big, big place feel small, intimate, and personal. He beamed at the crowd between (and often during) songs, and the crowd beamed right back.
Smith was charming, too: Before “Leave Your Lover,” he explained, “I think a lot of people think I’m a sad, depressing person who writes poetry and cries every night but I’m actually quite happy. I didn’t expect this album to be so sad, I always thought my first album would be like Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.” And as an introduction to “Good Thing,” he said, “I wrote this one after I stopped speaking to this guy. I deleted him on WhatsApp and just wanted to eat chicken and sleep, but I pushed this song out.”
Smith’s voice has more character live than in his studio recordings—enough that the differences are startling. It’s throatier and deeper, its variations of tenderness more impressive. The obvious parallel that comes to mind is Adele, but in actuality, Smith is singular in his blend of pop, soul, gospel, and delight. He is light, even singing about the depths of personal darkness.
Smith is currently nominated for six Grammys and had the third biggest album in the U.S. last year, selling 1.2 million records. He had two top five hits, but the way the opening bars of each track were welcomed, you’d think they were all No. 1 songs. On a few occasions, there was even some dancing—Smith snuck in a few bars of the cha-cha-slide—and Smith tucked “Finally” (CeCe Peniston) between verses of his own songs. He also surprised everyone bringing Disclosure out to perform his breakout track “Latch” during the encore. They rose on platforms hidden beneath the main stage, and the arena went off.
Smith’s remaining tour dates can be found here.