Live Review: Sam Smith Takes the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on an Emotional Rollercoaster


Sam Smith
Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

The Union Jack flag hung on the balcony long before the show began. A few fans speaking nearby the stage barricade were from England, but every person in attendance at this sold-out performance at the Bill Graham seemed like they'd overcome some sort of odds to hear and see Sam Smith perform. Many of the fans had been waiting hours long before the tour buses even rolled into town — just for that chance to be in the front, the potential to feel that man on stage. They were here to be with, and to be there for, Sam Smith.

[jump] Early last year, Smith's debut album, In The Lonely Hour, many of the songs quickly became radio favorites. The album is about relationships, with many concerning the age-old tale of putting in effortand getting no love back. Many of us have been in those shoes, but it's always a fresh wound. Saturday night, nearly 8000 fans felt that cold dark emotion. Many of us hide it, put on some makeup, smile, call a friend, but we don't open up much about it. Saturday night, those screaming fans were there to console with Sam Smith, to tell him they would travel on that dark journey.   And so the British pop/R&B star got up on a pedestal, raised high above the stage, as the band played the first few keys of “Life Support.” The thunderous screams that filled the Auditorium could've nearly popped ear drums. As Sam Smith stood on the edge of the stage and just through the sea of fans to the back of the floor to the top of the seats, one can be amazed of the amazing beauty and tranquility with so much noise that can be muted by a blink of an eye.
This photographer isn't keen on every song Smith performed, but I knew those radio hits when I heard them. Yes, hearing “Latch” without the Disclosure mix was a bit queer, but clearly the vocals heard helped pave his career to this moment. There were a few moments when the backup vocalists came on stage and danced with Smith, reminiscent of '60s R&B artists. However, watching Smith dance onstage seemed a bit awkward. Not that his moves aren't smooth, but it seemed that one false move would make the fragile, manscaped statue come tumbling down. 
There was no talk whatsoever about the recent controversy with Tom Petty. He did chat a little bit about loving San Francisco. And then it was time for the last song of the evening: “Stay With Me.” The now-overplayed radio single still gripped at the reality of the emotional rollercoaster Smith had stirred up for the evening.

[Photographer's note: I stood in that photo barricade for nearly half the time I was allowed to photograph with my back to Sam Smith to nearly see and hear what he was seeing and hearing. It's a rare thing to even describe for most writers. You would have thought this was a One Direction or 5 Seconds to Summer concert. But this was Sam Smith. I sense he was behind me with the reaction to the girls in the front row. I could sense he stood there, just like I have seen Taylor Swift done many times before — just standing on stage without saying a word, smiling and scanning the crowd, knowing he would not be there if it were not for these fans. These fans, it must be noted, had a strong contingent of teenage girls and women in their early 20s, projecting a staggering amount of emotion. I was there with them — with a huge smile on my face, in awe. And then back to work I went.]
A few friends knew where he ended the night, making a trip to Q Bar in the Castro, as shown on Instagram. He would later Instagram the next morning that he had a long night (perhaps a bit hungover) and thanked San Francisco for a wonderful time. 

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