A star is born. Oh yes, indeed, a star was born in Harlem, New York last night.
I have been to alot of great shows in my day. Had the pleasure of seeing Biggie before he died. Saw Radiohead during their Kid A days. Lauryn Hill in her prime. Kings of Leon at the Music Box in AC during the Aha Shake Heartbreak days. Prince at MSG during his Musicology tour. Kanye perform My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at Austin City Limits. Band of Horses with a 10 piece orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Adele at the Highline Ballroom and so many countless other unbelievable performances that made me completely lose my mind, but after what I saw last night, I definitely have to add Sam Smith’s performance at the world famous Apollo Theater to that list of unreal live musical experiences that I have had the pleasure of witnessing.
I love it when I get to see an artist live on their rise to fame. Their is a certain sense of energy a performer has when they are playing a venue for the first time, especially if it’s a very well known and respected place, such as the Apollo Theater in Harlem. First of it was my debut at the legendary Apollo Theater. I mean, woah…what a great place to see a show. The acoustics in the Apollo are top notch. Can’t believe it has taken me so long to get here. Some of the greatest musicians ever to walk the face of the earth, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and endless others have taken the stage at the Apollo and there is something that’s simply magestic about that place. As a performer, you just have to bring it at the Apollo, or I think part of you worries that Sandman will come and throw you off the stage like he does at Showtime at the Apollo. Only real “legit” artists play the Apollo. To even be considered worthy of taking that stage you have to have some chops. Although Sam Smith is a relative newcomer to the scene, his voice is truly the real deal and he was definitely deemed worthy of taking his place among the laundry list of talented performers that have graced the Apollo stage at such an important time in his career. Sam Smith understood this moment in time. He understands the importance of striking now, during his time, and was truly honored to be able to play one of the most well known music venues in the world, in the biggest city in the world, on the day his debut album came out in the United States. Pretty cool day right?
Sam Smith is 21 years old. He is still a baby by most standards. Yet he has the chops of a seasoned veteran. Like I mentioned previously, Smith’s debut album, In the Lonely Hour, was released in the US yesterday. The album is terrific. If you haven’t heard of Sam Smith then YouTube, Google, or Spotify him STAT and take a long listen. He has one of the purest voices in music today. He has range like a young Mariah Carey did, but only as a male vocalist. His voice is powerful, unnerving, and steady. It gets better as the night goes on, which is absoltely incredibile because his ability to elevate the range of his voice in and out of songs is uncanny. His falsetto is on another level. As I was listening to him sing last night I was like, “How does he do that?” He has impeccible control, which is hard for any singer to have but to be as polished as he is at age 21 is just scary. He reminds me alot of Adele in the fact that he is a Brit who can pull off adult contmeporary and modern pop at the same time without even trying. He sounds like he is a black soul singer, but yet he is a pale faced Brit who looks like Boy George. Smith showed a high level of humility when he graced the stage to thunderous applause. He knew that being at the Apollo was something special. He recognized it, addressed it, and then ripped us a new one for a little more than an hour with songs from his brilliant album, In the Lonely Hour.
Smith had firm control of his show from the minute he walked on stage. He was backed by an incredibly talented band equipped with three back up vocalists and a four piece string section. He effortlessly told stories about the songs he was performing before busting into electric versions of each. Smith took us on a tour of his vocal olympics scoring gold with every song that he performed. “Nirvana,” “Leave You Now,” “I’ve Told You Now,” and “I’m Not the Only One” were some of my favorite highlights. He hit his stride vocally with all of those numbers. He got the crowd to get to his feet with his hit, “Money on my Mind,” “Like I Can,” and “La La La.” If there is anything that Smith needs to improve on it is his stage presence. He looked rather stiff throughout the show, but that is because he is not a dancer. Even on his uptempo songs he walked around just singing the songs. He can encorporate a little more of a bounce into his step. But I’m being overly critical here. You will get mesmerized by his vocal ability first and foremost. His ability to move is something that won’t cross your mind unless you are expecting him to move around with you while you are dancing. But no need to worry about that. You’re hooked from the minute this young man opens his mouth to sing.
During his encore Smith performed “Latch,” the duet with the British electonic duo Disclosure, that brought him global fame. It was a stripped down version that stood up just as well as the uptempo dance version that rocked clubs for almost two years. And for his finale Smith was joined by another vocal powerhouse, Mary J. Blige, who sang Smith’s hit “Stay With Me,” with him. Everyone in the Apollo was on their feet singing along and ravishing in this tremendous night for a spectacular young man who is about to do major things in music. Sam Smith is a name that you should not forget. I have a feeling he is going to be the male Adele. His album is that good and his live show is even better. 2014 may be the year of Sam Smith. Don’t be late to the party. Get invited now, cause this guy is worth it.
Nirvana/ Together/ Leave Your Lover/ I’m Not the Only One/ I Told You Now/ Like I Can/ Restart/ Good Thing / La La La/ Lay Me Down/ Money on my Mind
Latch/ Make it to Me/ Stay With Me (feat. Mary J. Blige)