Melbourne’s CBD was abuzz as Sam Smith fans headed from all directions to Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. After an eight-month wait, the English singer-songwriter finally set down in Australia to share his critically acclaimed debut album, In The Lonely Hour. Let’s just say that after his spectacular performance, all is forgiven.
Warming up the vocal chords of the patiently awaiting audience was Brisbane-based artist Emma Louise. The synth-dominated introduction of her set trickled down to delicate piano notes and a transfixing melody. Dressed in red tartin, the female vocalist tapped straight into the Australian love of flannelette, complimenting her artistic talent alongside subtle dance moves. Wasting no time on stage, she began her short set featuring brand new tracks ‘Shut The Door’, ‘Everything Will Be Fine’, ‘Underflow’ and the 2011 smash hit, ‘Jungle’. Between delectable lyrics, a familiar tribal drumbeat and an airy vocal performance, there’s no wonder the clever local was chosen to open for the worldwide success.
As a crew of stagehands scattered onto the stage, a black veil dropped and we all knew it would be a set-up to die for. Before long, echoes of ‘Life Support’ were amplified throughout the arena, along with the deafening sound of the crowd’s scream. The black curtain fell, revealing a suited Sam Smith with undeniable style facing the crowd. With an incredible kick drum and a bass fuelled by funk, the eight-piece band produced a studio quality sound from the get-go. Encouraging the audience to sing-along with him (like we wouldn’t anyway!), Sam introduced ‘Leave Your Lover’, accompanied by stunning strings that seemed to be sown throughout the chart-topping track.
The heart-wrenching ballad was promptly followed by tear-jerker (at least in my case), ‘I’m Not Only One’. The “diary” entry was met with a truly moving soft guitar strumming and stirring cello tones that weaved in and out like a sea tide. Taking their turn in the spotlight, the crowd soon took over the lead vocalist position, creating an amazing live duet. Truly humbled by the roar of applause at it’s conclusion, Sam stepped back in utter dismay before moving into ‘I’ve told you now’. The evocative chorus ultimately demonstrated the British act’s vocal range, which is just as amazing outside the studio.
Bringing out a familiar gospel groove, Sam’s ‘Nirvana’ let the entire band shine. As the three back-up vocalists created an exciting harmony, the electric guitarist created an exhilarating sound. Serenading his front row fans, he sang out loudly, “Oh baby oh baby oh” with an unbelievable force. Joining Sam on centre stage, the vocalists led the arena in a clapping, foot stomping beat as they headed into ‘Like I Can’. Quickly moving genres, ‘Restart’ saw the group bring out their disco moves and the fans following their lead. With a sound reminiscent of Earth Wind And Fire, it was the perfect way to get a crowd moving and grooving.
Paying tribute to a fallen fellow English artist, Sam’s cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ was a hauntingly beautiful moment. The rendition was quickly followed by a mash-up of cover’s including Marvin Gaye’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and Chic’s ‘Le Freak’. Sam and his back-up singers flaunted a diverse vocal range, and well, the rest of us? Well we danced.
After the brief moment of simple joy, ‘Not In That Way’ brought us back to the melancholy sound of the debut record. Moving past the hurt of a broken heart, the sombre songwriter handed over his tales to us, telling the crowd “they are your songs now”. With a single vocal, piano and cello, the performance was delicate, stunning and remarkable. Piano keys softly settled under the vocal sound and lifted it to another height as the band played Elvis’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. Continuing the sing-along, ‘Lay Down’ and ‘La La La’ were up next and so were the twinkly phone lights that swiftly lit up the arena.
‘Money On My Mind’ was unexpected highlight of the evening, telling the tale of an industry professional whose incentive was money instead of love. With climatic instrumentals, high hats and a shred of a guitar, the track was soon blended with Cece Peniston’s ‘Finally’. The ‘last song’ was soon topped by a triple encore of fan favourites ‘Latch’, ‘Make It To Me’ and the song that started it all, ‘Stay With Me’.