When I attended my first Sam Smith concert in 2017, I dressed up, took selfies with my best friend and sang along to every song. In 2020, I watched my second Sam Smith concert through a screen in my bedroom, cuddling my dog, wearing my favorite fuzzy leggings and drinking a large mug of cinnamon apple tea.
Of course, I was only following Smith’s advice, who encouraged viewers at home to “get comfy” before settling into their live setlist. Their words were only the first in a series of glaring reminders throughout the night about how COVID-19 has altered the live music landscape. Rather than strut across a stage, Smith performed their latest hits in London’s Abbey Road Studios. The studio only held a handful of people and background crew members who wore facemasks. Additionally, Smith re-emerged after the final song for a live Q&A rather than a rousing encore number. Despite the differences, Smith reassured viewers that their concert would be sure to deliver the same soulful charm.
“This is different, but it’s going to be just as beautiful,” Smith said.
With numerous artists performing online this year, viewers may feel that they are watching a series of YouTube music videos instead of a live event. Smith’s team, however, delivered an intimate, engaging performance. The Abbey Road Studios venue allowed Smith’s band to set up in a relaxed semi-circle arrangement, facing each other rather than the audience. The pauses between songs felt familiar and organic instead of empty, as setmates grabbed water and shared a joke. Smith also diversified the concert experience by swapping out flashing LED lights with simple, monochromatic hues. “My Oasis” bathed the studio in a deep turquoise (reminiscent of aquarium lighting), whereas “Love Goes” was sung against a soft salmon. Their use of a singular, amber spotlight for the opening and closing tracks created a haunting atmosphere. The simplicity of the lighting choices complemented Smith’s scaled-down renditions and spared viewers the headaches.
The singer-songwriter released their third album, “Love Goes,” only hours before the livestream, at midnight on Oct. 30. The new album boasts 17 tracks divided into two discs, the second of which is entirely composed of singles released since 2018. The first disc contains Smith’s latest singles, “Diamonds” and “My Oasis,” along with new hits such as “So Serious,” “Forgive Myself” and “Kids Again” (of which Smith said they’re the proudest). I’m personally most impressed with “Love Goes,” the album’s title track featuring Labrinth. Originally dubbed “Love in C Major,” the track repeats Mozart-esque music scales before transforming into a jubilant, synthetic rhythm after three minutes. Smith extolled the highest praise upon Labrinth, who performed “Love Goes” alongside them at Friday’s concert.
Throughout the concert, Smith struck a delicate balance between new fan favorites (such as “Promises” and “How Do You Sleep?”) and past hit singles (including “Stay With Me” and “Too Good at Goodbyes”). Despite my love for “Love Goes,” the best hits of the night were their oldest ones. The slow piano rendition of 2014’s “Lay Me Down” played with black-and-white lighting evoked an all-encompassing feeling of nostalgia for “In The Lonely Hour.” The only track the livestream was lacking was “So Serious,” a new album track that discusses “being miserable in a really playful way.” The lyric, “put your hands in the air if you sometimes ever get sad like me,” perfectly lands within the intersection of Smith’s emotive vibe and the bleakness of 2020 — it would’ve caused viewers to wave their hands all over the globe.
I didn’t need to witness Smith perform in a concert venue to bawl my eyes out. The unusual virtual venue never detracted from the visceral magic of hearing songs I love being performed as if they are brand new. While their previous album found me hanging out with high school friends and planning trips to visit family, Smith’s latest album is now the soundtrack to my “new normal” of Zoom learning and quarantining in my parents’ house. The music of our favorite artists ebbs, flows and grows with us — no matter how many plot twists occur in our stories.
During the live Q&A, Smith said, “I hope I can look back at my albums like a photo album. I want to see growth.” Hopefully, when Smith, along with all of us who listened to their album in this unpredictable season, looks back at “Love Goes,” they’re able to realize the ways in which music prevails over 2020’s madness.