On the first of two nights of his The Thrill Of It All Tour at Auckland’s Spark Arena, pop soul powerhouse Sam Smith was already off to a good start. The absence of an overwhelmingly spectacular production - that one may have expected from an arena-sized show – gave way for a performance characterised by an authentic expression of anguish and heartbreak.
Australian singer-songwriter Gordi opened the show to a near full crowd with a one-woman band as she handled guitar, keys, synthesizer and vocals throughout her set. Despite gracing the stage in an eye catching metallic silver jacket, her stage presence did not speak the same loud statement. Gordi had a rather composed presence, at one point deadpanning-ly asking the crowd “Is everyone pumped?”, but Gordi captured the crowd’s attention with a powerfully resonant voice and her unique brand of electronica-infused ballads.
Smith appeared before the audience in a svelte grey suit with a triangular-shaped backdrop which would become the main visual theme of the night. There was not a corner of the stage that Smith did not visit last night as he sung directly to members in the crowd, waved, or just affectionately smiled at the scene before his eyes.
Throughout the night, the crowd sung in agreement to his heartbreakingly cathartic lyrics. Even though the Auckland show was the ninetieth show of his tour (as he announced to the audience), it appeared that the previous eighty nine shows did not make him become jaded from performing. Smith seemed genuinely anguished by his own lyrics in soul-baring numbers such as I’m Not The Only One and Lay Me Down which were laden with his rich voice and soaring choruses. Without a frilly stage production to detract the attention away, the audience was able to connect to his raw and authentic emotions.
The moment of intense melodrama came with the grandiose ballad Writing’s On The Wall, the theme for the Bond film Spectre. An extended musical opening by the piano and cello with the spectacle of a mammoth triangle splitting in half in the rear set the chilling atmosphere. Smith launched into the song with a controlled and unfaltering voice which only served to intensify the ominous mood.
The set list was also splashed with groovy dance numbers such as Omen, Money On My Mind and the funk-inspired Restart, one of the biggest crowd pleasers of the night as Smith’s vocals soothed over the chorus with a sensual charm as he playfully grooved to it with the two-step.
HIM, a gospel-like love anthem that describes religious homophobia, created the greatest impact of the night. A personal declaration from Smith (“I am a proud gay man”) along with the somber black-and-white on screen projection of his face carried a deeply powerful message that resonated with the crowd.
Sam Smith gave a remarkable performance of pop soul layered with his own soul. Auckland fans should be buzzing for round two tonight!