Review: Sam Smith - Gila River Arena - 9/30/2015

Sam Smith told the audience at Gila River Arena Wednesday night that it was one of the best crowds he's had in America during this, his first international tour. 

The crowd of screaming fans was certainly loud enough to merit consideration. For the entire concert, fans erupted with the first few notes of each song in clear recognition. This was a rescheduled show. In August, Smith postponed an Arizona date and several others to give his vocal cords time to recover from surgery. His return showed he had lost little momentum. Gila River Arena was packed, filled rim-to-rim with fans, and Smith's trademark silky smooth and effortlessly soulful voice showed zero strain.

Smith's 2014 debut album, In the Lonely Hour, produced a string of hit singles that propelled the British singer to the upper echelons of popular music. "Stay With Me" and "I'm Not The Only One" were everywhere in 2014 and into this year, and Smith pulled in four Grammys, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album.

He's a British singer with a one-in-a-million voice, signed to a major label at a very young age, a knack for writing powerful and heart-wrenching lyrics, and a distaste for the murky, money-fueled machinations of the music industry.

Remind you of anyone? 
Smith is indeed a confirmed Amy Winehouse fan, even covering "Tears Dry on Their Own" at a concert earlier in the summer. But the similarities end there; Smith resembles pop divas like Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Lady Gaga, where Winehouse idolized jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. Smith seems infinitely less volatile than Winehouse, and he has taken a better shining to fame. The first song off his debut album is called "Money on My Mind," with lyrics that explicitly reject the sort of music industry materialism that seemed to eventually swallow Winehouse and lead her down a spiraling road to addiction and overdose. It was one of the final songs he played at the concert last night.

"I was in the studio with people who seemed they were there for the wrong reasons," Smith told the crowd. 

It's a strange statement to say in front of more than 10,000 people after releasing an industry-approved album that won four Grammys – the ultimate nod from the industry machine. "Don't wanna see the numbers /  I want to see heaven / I don't have money on my mind / I do it for the love," go the lyrics. Smith deserves some sort of recognition for putting a statement about rejecting the soul-sucking commodification of music on his debut album. Let's just hope we get more than two albums out of him.
Critic's Notebook 

Last Night: Sam Smith at Gila River Arena

The Crowd: Looked to be mostly women, skewing younger than 25. Fans of all ages took selfies and video throughout the night. 

Let me take a selfie: The most impressive display of cell phone lights at a concert remains at the Taylor Swift show. Sorry, Sam. 

Random Notebook Dump: "I wonder if when the post-millennial generations enter their 30s they will stop this constant digital, public cataloging of their lives, which would imply the constant self-promotion is a product of an insecure narcissism. Otherwise, this would mark a permanent shift in communication and identity forming. I don't know which is more depressing."

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