Sam Smith has been having quite the year. First, at the beginning of 2023, they released a new full-length album, Gloria, and the first single, “Unholy,” jetted to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Now, they are in the midst of a massive world tour that is unlike anything Smith has done in previous solo tours. And that may be an understatement. Each performance is a play in three acts with changes in mood, costume, and elaborate choreography to match each change. And on Friday night at a packed Capital One Arena, Sam Smith brought the Gloria World Tour to DC.
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for Sam Smith in terms of their vocal talent and the ability to go from a deep baritone to tenor with ease. But as a songwriter, Smith continues to grow from primarily ballads to straight up pop songs with undeniably catchy hooks. And those songs have taken on greater personal weight with songs on the new record.
As Sam told Billboard in a recent interview, “I think I’ve always been non-binary, I’ve always been queer. I’ve called it Gloria because I’ve called that voice inside me. It’s like a voice in my head that just says, ‘You can do it’.” And as they stood there at Capital One Arena it was clear that both these songs and this new chapter had one thing in common. “But this show is about one thing,” they told the crowd Friday night, “Freedom!”
After a brilliant opening by Seattle born singer UMI at Capital One Arena on August 4, a figure strode onto the stage, grabbing a white covering that draped over a huge structure and pulling it off revealing a massive reclining figure, laid out the length of the stage. And with that, the opening melody of “Stay With Me,” Smith’s early and perhaps most well-known song, started with piano and a soulful chorus before Sam Smith appeared atop the structure to sing with the entire arena singing along with them.
Watch the official music video for “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith on YouTube:
That song flowed right into another early number, “I’m Not the Only One,” with Smith’s voice as strong as ever. And as the band started on the next number, Sam Smith made his way down to the edge of the stage singing out to the crowd and holding their mic out.
“Is anyone single?,” Smith asked the audience. “If you’re single, I wrote this song for you.” Through a blistering guitar solo, Sam Smith started singing “Dancing With a Stranger” from Love Goes. Smith has a command of their vocal instrument that’s masterful and “Dancing” is a perfect example of how they can stretch that range, and all while dancing along with the rows of fans in the crowd.
During a brief break on the stage, the video over the set changed to passages that heralded the second act of Beauty before the piano notes of “Kissing You.” Sam Smith appeared again above the sculpted riser in a sequined dress — at first just them at the piano — with one of the most moving numbers of the night.
As this part of the night was so aptly labeled as Beauty, the songs here were lush and, well, beautiful. “DC, do you like my dress?,” Smith asked the audience. “So two years ago I was at home and I was finishing this album Gloria, and when I wrote this record it was a very different time in the world.” They continued, “It really hit me that one of the things I love about what I do is getting to spend every single night on stage with some of the most incredible musicians and artists on the stage and backstage. And so I promised myself that if I got to tour again I’d use this time and chance to share with you some of the great talents that have been around me for many years.”
With that Smith brought out LaDonna Young to sing with them on the song “Lay Me Down.”
And following that Smith brought out Patrick Linton, another long time musician and singer who has worked with Sam Smith to sing the title track from Love Goes with the very Chopin-like piano beginnings. For the song, Patrick took the lead verse in a soulful waltz with everyone singing along, “That’s how love goes… goes… goes.” And with that big crescendoing wave of percussion and Sam, Patrick, and the other singers ending the song, it was wonderfully moving.
And with that, the night moved into a decidedly more dance groove oriented feel with songs like “Gimme” and the hit “I’m Not Here to Make Friends.” “I want to see you on your feet,” they proclaimed. “It’s time to dance, everyone!” As the crowd got to their feet, it was hard not to find smiles everywhere you turned. And I think that’s the thing, this was a space that felt immediately welcoming from the time the set was unveiled to the impromptu dance parties taking place in the seats surrounding the stage.
Watch the official music video for “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” by Sam Smith on YouTube:
Walking back out on the stage for “Latch,” Sam Smith wore a Capitals jersey as dancers filled the stage. Hopping up and down, Smith played MC as they motioned for everyone to join in. But things really started to heat up during the Donna Summer song, “I Feel Love,” as Smith shed the jersey to dance along with the others on stage. It was a perfect lead to Act III: Sex.
The brilliance of the way things were staged for each act felt like the perfect blending of theater and music. Like any good three-act play, that third act is the climax where the protagonist finds out who they are. And in this dance-pop opera, it was the most exciting part of the night. Leading it off was the choral “Gloria” as Smith appeared under robes to then move to a cover of Madonna’s “Human Nature” and the hit single, “Unholy,” with Smith atop the stage in horns and a pitchfork.
Perhaps it’s a tongue-in-cheek response to the criticism heaped on them by socially conservative media. Either way, it was great theater!
Sam Smith continues with their Gloria World Tour — and it’s certainly one to keep an eye out for.
The setlist included:
Part I: Love
Stay With Me
I’m Not the Only One
Like I Can
Too Good at Goodbyes
How Do You Sleep?
Dancing With a Stranger
Part II: Beauty
Lay Me Down
I’m Not Here to Make Friends
Latch (Disclosure cover)
I Feel Love (Donna Summer cover)
Part III: Sex
Human Nature (Madonna cover)
Here are more photos of Sam Smith performing at the Capital One Arena on August 4, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.