Clash catches BBC Sound Of and BRIT Critics’ Choice Award winner Sam Smith in the capital, at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire (words), and on the south coast at Brighton’s Old Market (photographs).
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Trying to find a classy way to drink gin and tonic is more difficult than expected, especially when the job of the night is uphold Clash’s reputation, especially in the unexpectedly star-studded level one bar at Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
We only came to review Sam Smith’s second sold out show, but every tentative swig at this rather bitter, lime-free G&T becomes an opportunity to peer incognito across the room to spot stars.
Jessie Ware strolls into the room with a disarming grace that would make any girl want to cry at their failure at womanhood. Howard and Guy from Disclosure politely sip at their beers in the way that blokes called Howard and Guy would. Despite accidently propelling the bastion of lad culture with their endorphin-inducing music, in person they’re more like what Arsene Wenger circa 1996 was to football – you might’ve laughed at his weedy, dorkish appearance and thick glass frames, but he wound up being the centre of all of your Stella Artois-propelled piss-ups.
They’re here to support their awards-laden PMR chum play a show to a mere sample of the thousands of people who took his single, ‘Money On My Mind’, to number one. His success has been brewing, mind: “It’s safe to say this song changed my life, and the Disclosure boys’, too,” Smith says before performing a stripped-back version of ‘Latch’ in the middle of his set. It is safe – and correct. Of course there’s nothing quite like the original, but Smith’s performance is raw, perhaps conveying truer sentiments than the Disclosure version.
Smith appeals to both 15-year-olds who aren’t being roped into dynamic duality of Neighbours and homework on a Monday night, as well as the semi-retired coupled here tonight having to drink rum and coke because there’s no sherry on offer. He possesses a sincere, non-gimmicky talent of yesteryear tacked onto well-structured pop songs. Take ‘Nirvana’, his best-known solo track to date, and the song he chooses to open with. While the audience roars with excitement, they mostly let him sing, doing a more muted version of his incredible power and range under their breath.
During ‘Leave Your Lover’, a track from Smith’s forthcoming debut album ‘In The Lonely Hour’, everyone stands up. But rather than getting his audience to raise their hands in that pre-EDM Scooter fashion, he asks us all to… “2-step”. The following ‘Money On My Mind’ and ‘La La La’ are songs on which where Smith’s unlikely star power shows.
The mellow moments do connect, but occasionally the room is dampened by the ballads. “It’s about to get depressing now… don’t slit your wrists,” announces the night’s headliner, full of cheeky personality. But ‘Lay Me Down’ and ‘I’ve Told You Now’ do affect the atmosphere, and not for the better.
This is especially the case when upcoming single ‘Stay With Me’ is aired. It reads similar to an Alicia Keys diary-like entry – but rather than anyone in the audience feeling particularly close to Smith for the duration, as they might a recorded version, it does feel rather one-dimensional live.
“It’s been my dream to play here,” says Smith – and that’s obvious enough. He grins like the Cheshire Cat the whole way through. Certainly, he can put on a show and, as young as he is, he still has time to work on those more nuanced moments. As it’s these efforts that will, ultimately, comprise the unique aspects of his commercially effective sound.
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Words (London): Michelle Kambasha
Photos (Brighton): Andrew Hasson / Camera Press (website)
Read Clash’s Next Wave feature with Sam Smith here.