With a voice as commanding as it is comforting, it’s easy to forget within five minutes of his concert that Sam Smith is just 23 years old.
The soulful Brit brought his In the Lonely Hour Tour to Valley View Casino Center on Tuesday night, met by a sold-out arena eager to welcome Smith to San Diego for his very first time.
After opener Gavin James, Smith stood in a single spotlight dressed in casual black, sporting some facial scruff and one gigantic, contagious smile. He was giddy. So were the fans.
The night kicked off with the song “Life Support” performed on a bare stage framed by a five-piece band and three backup singers. Belting the words right back at him were couples locked in hugs, teens holding up their phones steadily to record every minute and fanatical parents proving just how far-reaching Smith’s songs of heartbreak really are.
At 23, the king of last year’s Grammy Awards is proving his place in pop music and culture with the help of a timeless voice and a universally-relatable debut album journeying through one really, really bad breakup.
“I am very aware this is a very depressing album, I am,” he told San Diego on Tuesday night. “But for me, this album isn’t a sad record. It was a huge breakthrough in my life. This album is me just being myself. This album is my diary.”
Halfway through his “lover-in-despair” set that included “Leave Your Lover,” “I’m Not the Only One,” “I’ve Told You Now” and “Nirvana,” Smith made a short-lived attempt to pump things up, clapping, dancing and repeatedly asking seated concert-goers to get on their feet during the more upbeat songs “Like I Can,” “Restart” and a respectable cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.”
It was the part of the show met with the most awkwardness, particularly when he strained to get the whole arena to step side-to-side together. Not his fault, really, but a testimony more to the fact that Smith’s music might just be better appreciated without any dance moves.
Snapping back into his lane, Smith glided right into the slow jams again and cleared the stage for a single piano and harp. The powerful moment of the night came during “Not in that Way” mixed with a bit of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Quiet, stirring, beautiful and rich with sentiment. Just where he should be.
The night wrapped with an encore consisting of the song that catapulted the once unknown singer into radio success in 2012: “Latch,” stripped down without Disclosure’s pulsating beats. “Stay With Me” closed out the concert, as Smith smiled on, looking arguably like the happiest man ever to share in heartbreak.
It was later announced that tonight’s concert in Glendale, Arizona has been postponed due to ongoing vocal cord surgery recovery.