As British singer-songwriter Sam Smith took to the stage at a South Australian vineyard and launched into the first verse of their smash hit Stay With Me, their soulful voice instantly stunned the few hundred in attendance into silence.
The silence did not last, but that one moment was something powerful.
Especially given the setting. The UK musician was playing a private one-off show at South Australian Vineyard d’Arenberg Cube on Wednesday night – the same day they announced their upcoming New Zealand and Australia tour.
About 200 influencers, recognizable faces, media and fans had gathered as the sun was setting to see the chart-topping musician take to a far smaller stage than they are likely accustomed to, in front of a crowd a fraction of the size they often play to.
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And nestled in front of the vines with the backdrop of the “cube” seemed a perfect setting for an artist who is openly a fan of both nature and a bit of drama. And when teamed with their soulful, gospel-like choruses and undeniably powerful vocals, this vineyard became almost a spiritual setting.
Which made the louder chatter from the back of the mid-set crowd, especially during the quieter songs, a little more frustrating. It was, in a way, like talking in church as a kid.
Dressed in a black blazer with a gold shimmery top (everything is gold in celebration of the upcoming album Gloria, the crowd is told) in front of a black-clad band, Smith put on a show free from dramatics, dancing or flashy pyrotechnics. And it fit the setting and the music perfectly.
They had all they needed with one hell of a voice. The kind of soulful, powerful vocals that are awe-inspiring – especially up close.
“Please sing this with me as loud as you can in this beautiful setting,” Smith told the cheering audience in a softly-spoken voice, before kicking into I’m Not The Only One.
In the hour or so they held the stage, they pulled all the big hits, including Like I Can, Dancing With A Stranger and Too Good at Goodbyes to Love Me More and a little tribute to the 80s and to Australian music executive and Mushroom Group Founder Michael Gudinski, who died in 2021, with Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time.
They spoke between most songs. They gushed about the scenery and professed their love multiple times for the crowd. They urged people to dance and sing along.
An intimate gig may not be what Smith is used to these days, but they seemed very at home on the smaller stage.
The only indication it may have been unfamiliar was during Too Good at Goodbyes where the artist held out the mic for a bit of audience karaoke that did not hold its own without a stadium behind them.
Smith’s songs are known for being fairly sombre, but the concert, while subtle and more about performing songs than putting on a show, was uplifting.
“I’m feeling joyful” they assured the crowd to a sizeable cheer, before breaking into Love Me More. It was a song they released early from the forthcoming album, they said, before releasing any of the “slutty songs”.
There were no encores or dramatics here, it wasn’t the night for them. Instead, Smith chose to end the show with their latest chart-topper Unholy, a more upbeat affair which – despite recent commentary – was met with cheers from the crowd as the Cube behind them lit up bright pink.
And then it was over, the sun was down. There was a chill in the air and an after-party was looming. But after an hour of vocal power that really could not be faulted, paired with a humble, genuinely grateful presence on stage – there was no denying the show was something pretty special.
You might even say spiritual.
Sam Smith will play Auckland’s Spark Arena on Saturday, November 11, 2023.
The writer was hosted by Mushroom Group.