Sam Smith blows Vancouver’s collective mind (and eats at Fat Mao)

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      Opening your concert with the song that made you famous is something that can only be described as a baller move.

      A mysterious white sheet is pulled back to reveal a giant golden nude figure, lying languidly sideways, perfect ass facing the audience. Three backup singers walk onto the stage. And then the familiar “ooooooh, ooooooh” of Sam Smith’s 2014 hit “Stay With Me” fills the air at Rogers Arena. And naturally, everybody loses their shit.

      Before long, the British singer emerges from underneath the stage and oozes that velvet voice into the opening line: Guess it’s true / I’m not good at a one-night stand.

      It’s an epic beginning to what proves to be a spectacular show from start to finish, not a dud in the bunch.

      Before Smith takes the stage, opening act (and Canada’s own) Jessie Reyez warms up the crowd with a high-energy set featuring the head-banging “Gatekeeper”, a sample of “One Kiss” by Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris (which she wrote), and her runaway hit “Figures”. She swears more than a 14-year-old boy in his basement, but other than that it’s a great way to kick off the evening.

      But back to Smith. The best kinds of concerts are the ones where you leave an even bigger fan of the artist than you were when you first walked through the doors, and that was definitely true this evening. Smith came to Rogers Arena for the last Canadian stop on Gloria the Tour, in support of their fourth studio album Gloria.

      The show is broken up into three parts: Love, Beauty, and Sex. After giving everyone chills with “Stay With Me”, Smith—dressed in sparkly gold platform heels and a crisp white shirt and black tie covered with an ornate gold corset—moves right into vintage but ever-excellent hits “I’m Not the Only One” and “Like I Can”.

      Photo by Sara Harowitz.

      Smith’s charms are abundant. Once they’ve descended the golden stairs to the main stage floor, they curtsy to their backup singers (who sound like literal angels). Of course, Smith’s own voice is unparalleled, even in an arena setting. Their range is expansive, and their vocal control is expert beyond belief. After a few songs, they take a minute to address the crowd in their endearing British accent.

      “Vancouver! I don’t say this very often,” they admit, “but I love it here.” (And this seems to be genuine: an Instagram post from earlier in the day shows Smith outside Angus An’s Chinatown noodle spot Fat Mao with the caption “FAT MAO IS THE ONE. I LOVE VANCOUVER”.)

      “This show,” Smith tells the audience, “is about freedom.”

      Gloria the Tour isn’t just good pop music (though it is very, very good). It’s also body joy, and queer joy, and sex joy. Smith was one of the first mainstream musicians to publicly use they/them pronouns, and harnesses this tour (and the whole Gloria album, really) to celebrate their ever-expanding identity. Sexuality plays a key role, but it’s not done to shock people—it’s done to open our minds. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun (for context, peep the “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” music video, which has stirred up controversy for being so blatant about its sex-positivty. But people need to get OVER. IT).

      With costume changes (including an incredible sparkly ballgown that looks like a high-fashion version of the one Glinda wore in The Wizard of Oz and a personalized Canucks Pride jersey), a troupe of backup dancers (one of whom is actually from Vancouver), and a full band, Gloria the Tour cements Smith’s icon status.

      They play everything from the heartbreakingly relatable “Too Good at Goodbyes” and the club-dance anthem “Latch” (their song with Disclosure), to the dark “How Do You Sleep?” and the catchy “Gimme”, which features Jamaican reggae singer Koffee as well as opening act Reyez (who comes back on stage to help sing it, of course). 

      When the Sex portion of the show kicks into high gear, Smith reappears in thigh-high pleasers, a bedazzled thong, fishnets, and black pasties. Oral sex is simulated. Ass cheeks are shaken. Smith’s tongue unfurls from their mouth. It’s honestly all pretty hot.

      The show reaches its climax (pun intended, hello!) with Gloria’s runaway hit “Unholy”. Smith dons a hat with giant devil ears and holds a pitchfork, and it feels like a reclamation. The giant gold body that lies across the stage is suddenly lined with fire. Everyone’s screaming. Smith thanks the audience, waves goodbye. “Vulgar”, Smith’s song with Madonna, plays as the dancers lipsync along. And then: it’s over. The lights come up.

      Most artists these days seem to bake the “encore” into their set time—it’s not a bonus, but rather a planned-for part of the show that feels anticlimactic at best and disingenuous at worst. Smith, on the other hand, eschews the whole idea in favour of giving the audience one long show that pulls out all the stops. Smith doesn’t need to pretend. They’ll let you know when they’re good and done.