Sam Smith & Beth Ditto Turned Golden 1 Center Pink

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If you were lucky enough to score tickets to Sam Smith’s sold-out show at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center last Friday evening, Aug. 24, then you already know that Mr. Smith and Beth Ditto performed the California capital’s queer concert of the year.

Both artists are openly gay, and Ms. Ditto provided a ferociously soulful opening set that ranged from an impressive cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” – which she dedicated to the late Aretha Franklin -- to the 37-year-old singer’s own songs, which fuse soul, dance, and rock music to wonderful effect.

 

In addition to her solo music career, Ms. Ditto designs plus-size clothing lines, and she appeared at Golden 1 wearing a stylish sequined dress and a dark wig that caused her to repeatedly perform a “wig check” until she could stand it no more and finally pulled the hairpiece off. (The comic relief only increased as the pins holding the wig in place refused at first to cooperate.)

Whoever cooked up this double-bill, it was an inspired choice to pair Mr. Smith, whose tear-stained ballads are defined by longing and romantic pain, with the ballsy, bluesy pop of Ms. Ditto. (Her current CD is the excellent “Fake Sugar.”)

After Ms. Ditto’s spectacular set, Mr. Smith had to deliver the goods, and he and his falsetto did not disappoint, giving the crowd a warm bath of nearly two dozen love songs that alternated between romantic pain (“I’m Not The Only One,” “Lay Me Down”) and pleasure (“Say It First,” “Nirvana”).

The capacity crowd of 13,000 was on its feet for much of his set, and Mr. Smith rewarded those fans with an engaging show that completely connected with the crowd and displayed his sincere pleasure in performing.

Despite the wide age-range of the crowd, from pre-teens to grandparents, the performer dropped frequent f-bombs throughout his set, but nobody seemed remotely offended because Mr. Smith is still so boyish and sweet-sounding, at 26, that his use of profanity was somehow adorable.

After he sang his James Bond theme, Mr. Smith asked his fans “How fucking dramatic was that?” and the crowd roared its approval. The artist’s obvious gratitude for his fans extended to his band mates, most of whom he kissed as he introduced them to the crowd. (You don’t see a headliner do that very often.)

Mr. Smith opened up his set wearing a white crew neck t-shirt under a dark suit, and he looked very handsome thanks to sexy stubble and a diet (or gym workouts?) that have transformed the formerly chubby Brit in to an official “hottie.”

Mid-way through the show, Mr. Smith removed the suit jacket in favor of a green silk shirt, and there was yet another wardrobe substitution when the singer came out later in his set dressed in a stunning, long red coat.

His encores included two of the songwriter’s loveliest compositions (“Stay With Me” and “Pray“), which caused a number of fans heading for the exits -- in hopes of beating the crowds out of the venue -- to stop in their tracks, or return to their seats, and listen.

As good as those encores were, Mr. Smith really impressed on “Him,” a powerful ballad written from the perspective of an imaginary gay boy in Mississippi as he comes out to his father and to God.

That queer anthem requires Mr. Smith to sing in a lower register than his usual high tenor – which he should do more often – and he introduced the track (from his current CD, “The Thrill of It All”) by announcing: “I wrote this song because I’m a proud gay man.”

The unique stage build of Mr. Smith’s show caused the Golden 1 Center to feel more intimate than usual, thanks to an extremely narrow runway that came to a point -- like an arrowhead slicing through the crowd.

That runway delivered Ms. Ditto and Mr. Smith almost to the middle of the floor and allowed the headliner to spot a couple who had just gotten engaged in front of the stage. (Visibly touched, the singer started his song over and dedicated it to the happy pair.)

In the often crassly commercial world of slick, big budget, corporate concert tours, moments like that are hard to come by, but it did not surprise me given Mr. Smith’s warm personality and the devotion of his fans.

That devotion definitely starts early, and I was moved by the sight of a young black girl of no more than ten who sat directly in front of me, in between her parents, sporting what looked like a homemade t-shirt with the singer’s picture on the front.

The shirt’s lettering proudly boasted: “Sam Smith is my first concert!” I have no doubt that kid will turn out fine. After all, she already has good taste in music.

Note: If you missed Sam Smith’s show at Golden 1 Center, it’s not too late to get tickets to one of his two Bay Area concerts in early September, in Oakland and San Jose. For more information, visit https://samsmithworld.com/live.

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