Sam Smith headlined the sold-out O2 Academy on Monday night as part of his UK tour for In the Lonely Hour. His only support act was American singer-songwriter Tori Kelly [4/10], featured on Professor Green’s ‘Lullaby’. The radio hit is somewhat inappropriately named, being the one song that didn’t make the crowd want to fall asleep. The majority of her set is equal parts bland and unoriginal, tapping away unconvincingly on her acoustic guitar. Her voice is skilled rather than soulful, impressive enough to fill the venue but was too bare without decent instrumentation.
By the end of her set, the crowd is somewhat deflated, yet the headliner’s dramatic entrance revives energy into the room. Accompanied by his band and an overload of white light and fog, Sam Smith [9/10] opens with fan favourite ‘Nirvana’, immediately proving the contrast in sound with a much more filling mix of his backing band. The light show is simple and effective, suiting both the subtle ballads such as ‘Leave Your Lover’, as well as hit dance tracks like his and Naughty Boy’s ‘La La La’.
His soulful voice is now famous across the globe, having topped Billboard and UK Charts with his popular singles. Yet it isn’t any less impressive live, where years of training allow him to stay on pitch throughout the vocal challenges of his set. It’s complimented with well mixed reverb where necessary, and left clear for the bare acoustic moments.
When he’s not singing, Smith talks calmly, even telling admitting that In the Lonely Hour is a “pretty depressing record” and how being bored of his own songs inspired him to cover Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’. He performs the cover convincingly, turning it into a piano ballad that could comfortably sit alongside his own like ‘Lay Me Down’.
The set’s lowest point isn’t far off its highest, being the slightly odd mix and guitar issues in the upbeat ‘Restart’. The 80s-inspired dance track is one of the highlights of the album, yet falls behind live with its different, presumably less-rehearsed style. However, overall the song’s atmosphere still translates to the crowd, who enthusiastically copy the singer’s dance moves on his command.
In general, Sam Smith’s stage presence is calm, not bouncing around, but his voice carries a lot of energy. ‘Lay Me Down’, for instance, is performed extremely stripped back, beginning with sparse piano chords and vocals alone, and the vocals stand up impressively against the silence of the room. The staccato bridge is slowed down slightly to suit the environment, one of the many subtle adjustments that make the album compliment a live performance.
After smashing a jazzed-up version of ‘Money on My Mind’, Smith leaves the stage for his encore. He doesn’t survive two minutes before the crowd demand his return, where he sings Disclosure’s ‘Latch’ acoustically. When the song ends, his audience scream deafeningly and the singer has to thank them at least 30 times before they start to quieten.
He wraps up the gig with his hit ballad ‘Stay With Me’, the simple 3-chord pop song which proved to radio listeners that he wasn’t a one hit wonder. He walks off stage happily, having delivered a brilliant pop performance. Sam Smith has proven his right to be the ‘male diva’ of our generation, but is nowhere near being off-puttingly flamboyant. No deviations or improvisations would be expected from an artist like him, yet his professional and characteristic band have mastered the perfect distance between the album and the stage, with his flawless vocal talent delivering the songs people want to hear.