Review: Sam Smith bares soul, breaks hearts at Tampa’s Amalie Arena
With all he’s been through over the past few months, it’s a miracle Sam Smith is still with us.
Career-threatening vocal cord surgery this spring. A Segway accident last week. A terrible sunburn in Miami only Monday. What’s next, Legionnaires’ disease? Spontaneous combustion?
Thankfully, Smith’s magnificent moan sounded no worse for the wear as he soulfully serenaded a sold-out and screaming crowd of 10,600, many in their date-night finest, at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Tuesday.
The show was touch-and-go for weeks as the unlikely British pop crooner recovered from a vocal hemorrhage, but in the end, he not only made it to Tampa but took the city to church, smoldering through an passion-baring set that both broke and melted hearts.
“It’s been one of my dreams to come to Florida, and I’ve had the most amazing few days,” said Smith, 23, “even though I’m very sunburnt.”
Well, pain always did seem to suit him.
The four-time Grammy-winner expressed disbelief he’d grown into arenas as big as Amalie during this two-year tour, and who can blame him? Even now that he’s a superstar, he still looks plucked from obscurity – which of course he sort of was, even if his easy falsetto was always destined to carry him here. Instead of dancing, he paces; instead of screaming and stomping, he connects with the crowd with those deep, mournful eyes and a truly grateful grin. His charm is effortless, undeniable. Were he an American, he’d win American Idol.
It doesn’t hurt that Smith looks bloody fantastic these days, having slimmed considerably since even his spring Grammy triumphs. Gone is that pinchable wattle, replaced by fine cheekbones and scruff. His signature black has never fit him better.
The dark look also suits his music. All night, Smith spoke about the emotional fragility and heartbreak that inspired his acclaimed album In the Lonely Hour.
“I was finally able to be myself through my music,” he said before the gorgeously sparse I’ve Told You Now. “And the way for me to do that was to be honest.” He added: “The music that I make from here on is going to be a diary.”
Smith’s voice floated and tumbled through tear-jerkers like Leave Your Lover and Not In that Way, a knife-to-the-heart ballad about unreturned affection.
“I feel in love with a guy two years ago, and he completely broke my heart, and I was a bit of a wreck for a while,” he explained. “I was completely unrequited. I fell in love with him and he didn’t love me back.”
That melted into an equally wounded cover of Can’t Help Falling In Love, and then the nakedly vulnerable Lay Me Down.
And while this all sounds kind of like a mood-killer, Smith also knows how to pull a crowd right back to its feet.
The loafer-stomping Like I Can was a full-on gospel revival, as was its follow-up Restart; for both numbers, he brought a trio of backup singers down to the stage for a little soft-shoe swaying. Nirvana, one of his earlier songs, twinkled with electro-tinged energy, illuminating the stage with a kaleidoscope of lights.
And while he didn’t sing his impeccable cover of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, he did roll out a mash-up of Amy Winehouse’s Tears Dry On Their Own and the R&B staple Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (to be fair, he let a backup singer handle much of that one).
The back half of the show was loaded with hits: La La La, his smash dance hit with Naughty Boy; his warm, stripped-down version of Disclosure’s Latch; his self-empowering Money On My Mind, dusted with a pinch of CeCe Peniston’s Finally; his own epic audience sing-along Stay With Me.
Smith may be fragile, but Stay With Me’s impossibly angelic lilts and peaks prove he’s unbreakable where it counts. He beamed and patted his chest – thank you, thank you – as the adoring arena cried their love at the end.
It’s a miracle Smith is still with us, all right. It’s a miracle a soul this vulnerable is here at all.