Judging from the occasional waves of euphoric screaming as well as the frequent singing along throughout Sam Smith’s concert Saturday night at the Erwin Center, it was clear that his fans love the English singer’s voice, his songs and his stage presence. What they may not have expected is how wowed they’d be by the stage itself.
PHOTOS: Austin360 A-List gallery of Sam Smith at the Erwin Center
It’s not often that the floor plan for a concert almost steals the show. But the positioning and shape of the stage — a long, runway-styled thin triangle that jutted out to a point in front and tapered toward a towering pyramid shape in the back — was stunningly creative. Sections of the stage elevated and descended on various occasions during the night, adding to the theatrical effect.
Smith took full advantage from the very start. Rising as if from nowhere on a square midstage platform, he first revealed himself to the crowd seated on a chair, singing the opening lines of “Burning” from his 2017 sophomore album “The Thrill of It All.” We heard but didn’t see the band at first, until they suddenly emerged on a three-tiered riser at the rear of the stage. Quite the dramatic entrance.
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An extraordinary singer who sails from a high tenor to a soaring falsetto with ease and grace, Smith captured everyone’s attention with his breakthrough smash “Stay With Me,” which carried him to a near-sweep of the 2015 Grammys (including Record and Song of the Year). He added an Oscar in 2016 as co-author of “Writing on the Wall” from the James Bond flick “Spectre,” and last fall he released his much-anticipated sophomore album, “The Thrill of It All.”
Saturday’s show focused heavily on that new record, containing nine of its 10 songs. Smith played about half of 2014’s “In the Lonely Hour” as well, filling out the rest of the nearly two-hour set with non-album material including “Omen” and “Latch,” from the collaborations with electronica duo Disclosure that first brought Smith to wide attention.
Throughout the evening, Smith and his nine bandmates used the striking stage arrangement to enhance the visual appeal of their performance. Often, he strutted the full length of the stage while his four backup singers flanked him on either side with in-the-groove dance moves. Mid-show, he briefly departed while the band played an instrumental interlude, then rose again from that mid-stage elevated platform to deliver the James Bond number. (“How [expletive] dramatic was that?”, he boasted as the song ended.)
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Things got even more elaborate in the encore, when the walls of the tall pyramid at the rear of the stage fell away to reveal a spiral staircase, which Smith ascended to sing the new album’s “Palace.” Beneath him, almost like a gender-reversed “Romeo and Juliet” musical balcony scene, backup singer Lucy Jules duetted with Smith, nearly outshining him with the impressive power of her voice.
“Stay With Me” followed, its simple but memorable chorus eliciting the loudest of many sing-along moments during the night. During the final number, “Pray,” Smith took time to profusely thank the audience for responding so passionately, one of several occasions during the night when he gave a nod of appreciation for their support. At the end, he returned to that same midstage chair he’d emerged from at the start, taking a seat and slowly descending out of sight. Quite the dramatic exit, too.
Earlier, Smith had noted that the Austin show was the finale of the first U.S. tour leg. There’s actually one more show here on Monday, when Smith will tape the TV show “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live. Tickets for that performance already have been distributed, though die-hard fans willing to weather 100-degree heat in the standby line might get lucky.
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California pop-country singer Camaron Ochs, who performs under the name Cam, opened the show with a short but sweet six-song set that showcased her powerful voice and unflinching positive attitude. On this tour largely because she co-wrote “Palace” from Smith’s new album, Cam revealed that she’ll be back in town on Oct. 20; the venue has not yet been announced.
2. One Last Song
3. Not the Only One
4. Lay Me Down / His Eye Is On The Sparrow
6. Nirvana / I’ve Told You Now
7. (Instrumental interlude)
8. Writing’s on the Wall
10. Money on My Mind
11. Like I Can
13. Baby, You Make Me Crazy
14. Say It First
15. One Day at a Time
16. Midnight Train
18. Too Good at Goodbyes
20. Stay With Me