English singer Sam Smith captivated the United Center audience Aug. 15 with his The Thrill of It All Tour.
After opener, Beth Ditto ( recently interviewed in Windy City Times ) belted "Fire," Smith began his set with lively track "Burning." Attendees were heating up to hits like "I'm Not the Only One" and "Lay Me Down" early in the evening.
People sang along to tracks "Money on My Mind" and "Like I Can," but it was possibly unfamiliar songs like "I've Told You Now" and "Baby, You Make Me Crazy" that will have listeners delving into his catalogue. The Grammy winner already has a rich body of work with only two records.
His guesting on gems like "Omen" and "La La La" have added to his song selections. Surprisingly, he didn't perform the Naughty Boy song this time and "Latch" could have picked up the pace thanks to Disclosure beats, but he chose a stripped-down version instead.
The self-described genderqueer crooner did an excellent job of connecting with the audience while appearing humbled at the attention. The huge crowd didn't seem to mind that he dislikes Michael Jackson's music and were hanging on to his every falsetto note.
The 26-year-old was mainly lit from underneath down a long runway on the stage where it was blinding at times. While not the most flattering choice, he didn't seem to mind the footlights on a runway while strutting around.
-At one point he asked for the fans to turn on their cell phones to provide better lighting and was touched by the cooperation. The Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning James Bond theme "Writing's on the Wall" was a real high point for many watchers.
Talented backup singers and the members of the band were introduced, and Smith graciously explained how important they are to him. He danced with his posse in a line across the lip of the stage for "Restart" and sampled the Luther Vandross/Janet Jackson song "The Best Things in Life Are Free." If he continues on this appreciative path for his surrounding team he should maintain a long career in the future. There did not seem to be a diva bone is his body all night.
At times he performed similarly to George Michael and might be the closest thing this new generation has to the deceased pop-music icon.
The Thrill of It All album is a break up record and Smith confessed that he worked through his depression in the studio. He then sang "One Day at a Time" that he said was about getting drunk with his girlfriends. His voice soared with the standout "Say It First."
He dropped the microphone on the ground and laughed it off before singing "Midnight Train."
The out performer presented "HIM" as a gay anthem, in which he stated that love is love; gay flags were waving near the stage. That song built to a loud crescendo.
The songwriter encouraged the audience to sing "Too Good at Goodbyes" to their exes, then left the stage to thunderous applause.
His encore had him donning a smoking jacket, climbing a large staircase and the enormous set unfolding beside him. He sang with backup singer Lucy Jules to "Palace" and closed with "Stay With Me" and "Pray" before heading out to Boystown to relax at several LGBT spots.
Smith tweeted, "I sang my toosh off last night coz the energy was out of control! I love you so much Chicago."
Smith debuted the new song "Promises" with Calvin Harris on Aug. 17, and hits the road for more upcoming concert dates. Visit SamSmithWorld.com .
Photos and text by Jerry Nunn