Last night, a white boy from London turned out Harlem’s world-famous Apollo Theatre.
But for Sam Smith, who has stealthily become the most exciting new voice in R&B, the iconic stage felt more home than a jaunt across the pond.
After guesting on Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La” last year, the 22-year-old with an ethereal voice breaks out on his own right with his debut, In the Lonely Hour. Decked out in a white-and-black tuxedo with his signature slicked-back faux hawk and full band, he looked the part; ready to take the throne.
“It’s gonna get depressing now,” Sam forewarned the sold-out crowd. As the album title suggests, the singer’s set list is melancholy stuff. OK, that’s an understatement. This is gut-wrenching, getting-a-dagger-stabbed-through-your-heart music. From “Leave Your Lover” to “Good Thing,” every note, albeit executed flawlessly, oozes with misery. Future concertgoers: Bring a box of Kleenex.
As Sam flows into his resplendent falsettos, you will be haunted by the ghosts of exes past. Even the rare glimpses of happiness, like “Money On My Mind” (which was blended exceptionally with CeCe Peniston’s 90s uptempo classic “Finally”) are veiled in darkness.
Heartbreak can do that to a kid. “I’ve never been in a relationship before,” the singer admitted to the crowd. “I have been in love but the person didn’t love me back.” (Last month, Sam revealed to Fader that his music was inspired by unrequited love for a man.) Those who can’t do, teach. In the case of Sam Smith, those who haven’t loved, sing about it very compellingly.
Sam reserved one of his most emo cuts for the very end. He performed his breakthrough hit “Stay With Me” during the encore and brought out Mary J. Blige for a guest verse. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul was more reserved than usual. Although she sounded impeccable, she was just there to pay homage to Sam. After all, if there’s anyone worthy of passing the torch to, it’s him. —Sowmya Krishnamurthy