With Gavin James
Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Monday, August 17, 2015
If there’s a soft spot somewhere near the heart of Texas, Sam Smith found it Monday night at Verizon Theatre. With his dashing style and graceful vocals, you’d think some genetically engineered cross between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby had taken the stage. But if the night oozed of a nostalgic visit to the middle of the 20th century, this show was still firmly rooted in 2015.
From the moment he hit the stage in Grand Prairie, the English phenom kept things simple and classy. Comfortable in a sleek black shirt and jeans — a slight deviation from his normal suit-and-tie attire — Smith stood in front of the roaring crowd as he opened with some a capella lines from a single off of his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. White fluorescent lights illuminated the arena, as he stood calm and collected, asking, “Dallas, how you doing?”
Watching the sold-out crowd in the 8,000-cap venue shouting shamelessly for the 23-year-old was a surreal experience; just two years ago he was scrubbing toilets in his hometown of London to support himself. His is the overnight success story personified. In the span of about one year, Smith seems to have done it all: he debuted his first album, topped Billboard charts across the globe and racked up four Grammys in one night this past February.
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Yet Smith was able to make the big room at Verizon feel small. The intimacy of his album tracks came through seamlessly in his on-stage routine. Before singing international hits like “Leave Your Lover” and “Not in That Way,” he paused to reflect on the significance of the entire album, giving the audience an introspective view of the motives behind his masterpiece. He called In the Lonely Hour "a breakthrough,” saying, “I just stripped everything back, and I just became myself in my music.” That breakthrough came after a rough patch in his life where he dealt with a terrible break up. The real-life stories that Smith captures through his lyrics prove that the whole album is a direct reflection of true, authentic despair.
After a few upbeat selections, Smith shined some light on his back-up singers as they performed some familiar old school medleys. But after a while it was time to slow it back down. The backstage crew rolled a grand piano out on stage and the spotlight moved to the solo cellist sitting atop an elevated platform. Smith explained, “Every song was written with me and the piano, so I feel like acoustics are important.” He went on to say that: “It’s really hard to sing some of these songs because I’m over the guy I was in love with.” In turn, he mentioned that these are “your songs now,” encouraging the audience to sing along with him. The pianist struck the first few chords for the song “Lay Me Down” and when Smith started the first verse, the room burst into life.
Smith’s success story, as heartwarming as it is on a personal level, says something else about the forward momentum of mainstream pop culture. Although he’s been compared to past generational icons, the fact remains that he’s an openly gay male who considers himself a feminist. The way both he and his work are praised on a global scale suggests something more mature about the world's moral conscience. It seems as if true talent and hard-earned success are beginning to prevail over exhaustive political issues and controversies. Smith may embody the style of the '50s and '60s, but he never could have been as open about who he is back then — probably not even a few short years ago.
The big question, of course, that had everyone restless, was whether or not Sam Smith would perform his number one hit single: “Stay With Me." After an outstanding round of applause and one encore, Smith gave the fans what they had really been asking for. After the song, he stood tall and lean, facing the crowd and flashing a smile laced with satisfaction and poise. He waved, soaking up the sounds of screams and joyful laughter, and mouthed the words “Thank you.” The lights faded and the band played on as Smith left us there, still basking in the warmth of his heart, wishing he had been able to stay a little longer.