I’m way too good at goodbyes
They knew every word.
And so did I.
Music has become balkanized. There are rappers on Spotify and classic rockers at the shed and there’s no coherence.
But maybe it’s coming.
It started with Adele. Who sang singable songs about life and became the biggest act in the world. She didn’t participate on social media, she didn’t do sponsorship, she let the music do the talking, and it was enough.
Sam Smith is cut from the same cloth.
Why are all the best acts English?
So this appearance was part of his album launch.
Upstairs you had the connected. On the wall you had celebrities, like James Corden.
And in the pit you had fans.
I had a great conversation with Corden. He was animated and alive and not reticent whatsoever. He told me how he listens to Van Morrison and…
Then the lights went down.
I was seated in the bleachers, dead center, with the privileged.
But the truly privileged were on the floor. Who’d won the lottery and were inside. Like the three gents with handmade t-shirts right down front, who Sam leaned down and kissed at the end of the show.
And the paradigm has completely changed. This ain’t your father’s classic rock. Where you sat stoned, or stood and swayed to overpowering music. Today’s fans know the words and they sing every one of them.
Because the music is accessible.
Never underestimate this. Used to be you’d go to the show and people would only know the hits, but with Spotify and YouTube acolytes are familiar with all the material. If you like the hit, you go deep.
And what you noticed first, which was ASTOUNDING, was that Sam Smith could SING! Effortlessly! He hit every note!
Now you’ve got to know, baby boomers are familiar with acts that were brilliant on record but rough in concert.
And the youngsters are used to hard drives, they expect perfection.
And the machines get it right, but they don’t live and breathe, they’re soulless.
But Sam was accompanied by a piano player. And a bassist and guitarist and string player and three backup singers. There was no fakery whatsoever. And when he opened his pipes…
Maybe we’re used to this from singing TV shows.
But those people can’t write. And subtlety is out the window. Whereas at the Troubadour tonight an angel graced the stage, it was remarkable, this guy could nonchalantly throw off perfection, you were watching and couldn’t believe it.
And he started with a few old numbers and that’s when I noticed…
Everybody downstairs knew every word.
And these people looked like today. These were not hipsters, some were nerds, you see the cool people you see in tabloids and on Instagram aren’t real, everybody else is normal. They’ve got their heroes and are warm and connecting, no one was jockeying for position, everybody, almost equally men and women, just had their head in the air singing to the heavens.
And Sam Smith couldn’t stop smiling.
Sure, this was an album promotion. Last time around this guy played stadiums. But the energy was palpable, the audience was the battery for Sam Smith’s performance. They jolted him to deliver.
And boy, did he.
The new songs were even more rewarding than the old.
And you realized you were attending something special, the way it used to be, when music was not about bucks, but sound. Today everybody’s so busy counting the cash that they forget it’s all about electricity, and Sam Smith was turned on tonight.
And so were we.
I couldn’t help but marvel at the assembled multitude. They were having a religious experience, as was I. There was no projection, no dancing, no fakery, just honest to goodness music, the way it used to be.
And can be again.
And after playing his old hit, “Stay With Me,” it was time…
You must think that I’m stupid
Now “Too Good At Goodbyes” only went live Thursday night. In the old days you’d have to sit by the radio just to hear it. But these days…
I played it for an hour straight that night. And even more over the weekend. I like to luxuriate in one great song, when I find one.
And usually when acts play new music people go to the bathroom.
But with these tunes, you could get them the first time through, they evidence humanity.
And since you could listen as much as you wanted online…
You must think that I’m a fool
The song’s only been in the marketplace for days, but everybody knew every word. You could see Sam cracking up, he didn’t believe it, it lifted his performance to another level, that’s the power of the crowd, when amped they levitate not only themselves, but the performer.
You must think that I’m new to this
Not that new. Not like last time through. Sam was comfortable in his own skin. He wasn’t nervous, he could relax and let it all out, and when the mellifluous sound emanated from the stage…
I’m never gonna let you close to me
That’s wrong, we were right there tonight.
And when Sam left the stage we felt the glow.
Because we’d experienced genius. We’d seen the power of art. We’d seen a pathway into the future. One in which talent matters and melody returns, with words that speak to our inner tuning forks, which too often feel lonely in this abrasive world.
Sam Smith was way too good.
He was undeniable.
It was hard to say goodbye.