When British sensation Sam Smith first visited the ACL stage in 2014 he was just beginning his U.S. rise, having already conquered his homeland. The soulful singer/songwriter returned as a fully-established worldwide superstar, showcasing his acclaimed sophomore LP The Thrill of It All and a hit parade of highlights in a dazzling, entertaining set.
As his five piece band hit the first notes, Smith, nattily-attired in a slim tan suit, and his quartet of backup singers took the stage for the doo-wopping “One Last Song.” The London native strode out onto the uniquely extended stage and had the rapt crowd sing the intro of the soulful “I’m Not the Only One,” letting the song become a call-and-response number by the end. After reminiscing about his first ACL appearance, which he called one of his favorite shows ever, he asked, “Can we beat that show?” The audience enthusiastically replied in the affirmative, leading into a standout “Lay Me Down,” the epic he described as the first song he wrote with longtime collaborator Jimmy Napes. Then most of the band members left the stage, leaving Smith with only piano and cello in support of the showstopping “Latch,” his hit collaboration with electronica duo Disclosure. The band and singers returned in full force for the sly gem “Money On My Mind,” followed by musician intros and a romp through “Like I Can,” which became a massive crowd sing- and clap-along. The charming and effervescent Smith wasn’t done with the audience yet, encouraging them to dance and sing with the sparkling pop/soul of “Restart.” “You guys, much love – that was amazing!” he smiled after the song concluded.
For the loping soul tune “Baby, You Make Me Crazy,” Smith generously threw the spotlight to his singers, letting them finish the tune. He returned for “Say It First,” a crowd-pleasing, widescreen pop tune about devotion. Smith and company went from romance to breakup, reclaiming the soul vibe for the heartbreak of “Midnight Train.” That was simply a warm-up, however, for “Him,” a stirring anthem for anyone refusing to be marginalized for being who they are. After that exhilarating emotional ride, he ended the main set with “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the jazzy top five single from Thrill that once again welcomed audience participation. The crowd went wild, unready for the show to end. Luckily, it wasn’t the end, as the band returned for the new album’s “Palace,” and Smith harmonized in an exquisite duet with knockout backup singer Lucy Jules. “It’s been four-and-a-half years since I released this song,” he grinned for the follow-up,” and I still love singing it as much as I ever have.” He meant the Grammy-winning breakthrough smash “Stay With Me,” of course, a perfect showcase for his massive vocals. The audience accompaniment on the chorus worked the tune’s gospel feel and brought the house down.
You might think that’s how the show ended, but you’d be wrong. “I have to say – you’ve beaten my last Austin City Limits,” Smith remarked about the crowd’s enthusiasm. “That was incredible!” He ended the show with “Pray,” another gospel-flavored anthem that celebrated inclusion and the power of connection. Smith left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation. It was a magnificent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 44 on your local PBS station.