Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Sam Smith for ACL TV by Mr. S.

Y'all, I feel like such a bonehead. I had the extraordinary pleasure to attend Sam Smith's performance for Austin City Limits Television, on the eve of Weekend One of ACL Festival (pictured above). The lovely Mr. S. was kind enough to wrote a beautiful review, which I left in the blog queue unpublished. So, while this isn't super-timely, it's still a great review and it was still an amazing experience, which you'll be able to watch on your local PBS station within the next few months!

Sam Smith - Restart video via YouTube

Disclosure teamed up with Sam Smith back in late 2012 to release "Latch" in the UK and, at the time, it was just another great dance tune from overseas with an unknown vocalist that was unlikely to make waves stateside. What a strange, long trip it's been. "Latch" eventually started to earn radio airplay here in the US early this year and it eventually peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It helped Disclosure establish themselves as artists and producers to watch and was the perfect set up to introduce American audiences to Mr. Smith. By the time his solo debut album "In The Lonely Hour" came out in here in July, it entered the album charts at number 2 and gave him a much higher profile than the electronic duo.

It didn't hurt that Smith has remained dedicated to breaking the US market by doing countless press interviews, tour dates and television appearances. Hitting town for the Austin City Limits festival, he dropped by the Moody Theater to record an episode for ACL's 40th season on PBS this fall. Backed by a 5-piece band and 3 powerful backing vocalists, Smith powered through a full set of tunes from his debut record and even threw a few choice covers into the mix.

Austin Bloggy & I had heard a rumor that he was feeling a little under the weather before the taping began, but if that was true it was completely undetectable from an audience member's point of view. Things kicked off with "Nirvana" and "Together." We've been lucky to attend several recent tapings and the energy from the crowd was palpable, much higher and excited than other recent audiences. It reflected how lucky everybody felt to be seeing an artist on the rise in such a big way, with the talent to match the success. It was also fun to see several children in crowd, including several families with young girls who were singing along to all the songs, in the front row.

"It is so hot here. My English skin can't handle this," he exclaimed. While I'm not attending the festival until next weekend, he must have flat-out melted on the festival stage the following day! Before heading into more tunes, he discussed "In The Lonely Hour" and how it had already changed his life so much. Last year, he was working in a British pub where his tasks included cleaning the bathrooms.

Now, he's touring the world in perfectly tailored suits and singing songs of unrequited love that connect with listeners from all backgrounds and orientations through the universality of the lyrics. Even though Smith is an out gay man, his tracks are more ambiguous (at least so far). As a gay man myself, I suppose the only thing that made me cringe a little was during a cover of Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" - when the word "boy" is more innocuously replaced by "you." Something so small, if left in place, could actually become a powerful statement. Instead, it's softened a little bit and I can't help but feel as though that is to not offend a broader audience. Maybe, at the end of the day, that is truly progress after all?

The set pushed into more upbeat territory after Smith confessed that, like with the work of Ms. Houston, he really only listens to female divas when he has music on in his personal life. That made his perfect mash-up of "Money On My Mind" with the added chorus of CeCe Peniston's "Finally" all the more confessional. Things appeared to be over after a too-brief 9 songs, but then Smith and the band returned for an encore that kicked off with his slower arrangement of "Latch," which appears as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of his debut record.

Not surprisingly, the performance ended with the song that solidified his success as a solo artist here in America. "Stay With Me" peaked at number two on the US singles charts and has become one of the year's biggest singles. As it started, the crowd rose to its feet and sang along with every word. It's safe to say that this won't be the last time that Smith graces the Austin City Limits stage. We're already looking forward to his next visit.

A broadcast date has not yet been set for Sam Smith's performance, but it will air this fall on PBS as part of the 40th Season of Austin City Limits, airing locally on KLRU.

Leave Your Lover
I'm Not The Only One
How Will I Know
Good Thing
Lay Me Down
Money On My Mind/Finally
Make It To Me
Stay With Me