“I know it’s Tuesday and the week has just begun,” Sam Smith says three songs into tonight’s sold-out hometown show, “but I want you to turn this place into a gay bar!” The Oscar, Grammy and Brit Award-winning singer-songwriter – and current scourge of the prurient right-wing media – has just opened with a hattrick of their soulful early hits: ‘Stay With Me’, ‘I’m Not The Only One’ and “Like I Can’.

They are dressed resplendently in a basque and top hat – think Tom of Finland crossed with La Cage aux Folles – and performing atop a giant gold statue of a reclining female deity. This, presumably, is Gloria, the “fighter spirit” after which this tour and Smith’s transformative fourth album is named. No one could accuse the 30-year-old of serving heteronormativity, but at this point, the overall vibe is much too classy and restrained to feel like a sweaty gay bar.

Credit: Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Accompanied by a four-piece band and three backing singers, Smith’s vocals are silky and supple throughout. They’re also a warm and reassuring stage presence who relishes the drama of each costume change – later on, they reappear in a pink pouffy coat that Diana Ross might dismiss as OTT. But, as fun as this show frequently is, it never feels flippant. When Smith covers Des’ree’s ‘I’m Kissing You’ dressed as an angel, their gold headpiece spells out the name of Brianna Ghey, the 16-year-old trans girl who was killed in a Cheshire park in February. It’s an incredibly poignant moment that underlines Smith’s status as an increasingly vocal spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community.

Just after the halfway mark, there’s a thrilling shift in tempo. “Pretend you’re in a gay bar now,” Smith says before performing the dark disco bop ‘Lose You’ and their housey Calvin Harris team-up ‘Promises’. By now, they’re flanked by a gaggle of backing dancers and the stage is bathed in pink and blue light. Smith has somehow made an 18,000-capacity arena feel like cult queer night Horsemeat Disco. When a banging version of their Disclosure collaboration ‘Latch’ segues into Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, and Smith whips off their top to a roar from the crowd, it almost feels like time for a bosh of poppers.

The set ends with a pointed cover of Madonna‘s ‘Human Nature’ – “Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex,” Smith sing with a wink – and their grinding recent chart-topper ‘Unholy’. Smith has delivered a beautifully designed show that echoes their creative evolution from lovelorn balladeer to something edgier and more transgressive. And the multigenerational crowd stays with them to the finish. Smith’s musical metamorphosis probably isn’t complete yet, but for now, this live triumph feels like a new high watermark.

Sam Smith played:

‘Stay With Me’
‘I’m Not The Only One’
‘Like I Can’
‘Too Good At Goodbyes’
‘To Die For’
‘How Do You Sleep?’
‘Dancing With A Stranger’
‘I’m Kissing You’
‘Lay Me Down’
‘Love Goes’
‘Lose You’
‘I’m Not Here To Make Friends’
‘I Feel Love’
Human Nature’

The post Sam Smith live in London: a sweaty and spectacular night out appeared first on NME.


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