Sam Smith marvels with decadence and debauchery at Kia Forum

Sam Smith returned to Los Angeles for a pair of shows at the Kia Forum, their first in the region since August 2018 at former SoCal institution Staples Center. It was a daring show for the 31-year-old English singer, shedding much of their prior choir boy persona for something more adult, playful, provocative and yes, classy. Whether it was Smith or a collaborative effort, the set list must be discussed right out of the gate, because it set the entire GLORIA the tour up for success, knocking out numerous hits at the top of the show, blending new material with other hits throughout and leaning mostly into their 2022 album Gloria for a final taste of mayhem. It was also a celebration of Smith’s collaborators, with the artist singling out some talented singers, dancers and producers throughout the night.

Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez, who has a truly special and magnetic voice, was enjoyed by fans, but her opening set fell flat with not enough of a showcase of her voice and much more spoken word and interactions with the crowd during her short time on stage. Her effort was humorous though, engaging with fans (who packed the floor) with an approach like it was a “first date” for people to get to know Reyez. She wore a Bob Marley “Get Up, Stand Up” black tee, an orange cap backwards and ripped jeans. Her soul throwback “Figures” never disappoints, and she slithered down in a chair as she felt the moment. Recent release “Jeans” had a smitten, bluesy love song vibe that worked well and 2022 track “Still C U” offered wonderful falsetto and some big notes as the crowd wailed back. Elsewhere, Reyez made a statement on the dark side of the music industry with “Gatekeeper”, she talked about starting out when she was a bartender and bottle service waitress, asking for the crowd to applaud for the bartenders. She proudly introduced her band and mentioned they were all from Toronto and took a moment to share the lesser-known fact that she scored her first #1 as songwriter for Dua Lipa smash “One Kiss”, vogueing and dancing it out in her chucks.

The start of Sam Smith‘s GLORIA the tour was a one-two-three punch of smash hits, which it seems is rarely done these days. The show was split into three sections, themed with acts about LOVE, BEAUTY and SEX. Screams ensued as a statuesque dancer in a gold gown walked toward a massive golden statue laying like a piece in a museum or monument inside an ancient temple. A pianist played on a lofted stage with a shimmering gold blouse and the band joined her for an intro to “Stay With Me”, as the background singers were sounding glorious on the now-iconic “oh-oh-ohs” of the hit ballad. Smith arose from inside the statue and it was clear this first section LOVE was all about the love for fans, decadence and showmanship. Roars took over the Kia Forum, as Sam Smith stepped out with a golden mailman cap, a black tie, white shirt, corseted piece in the midsection and golden platform shoes. “Stay With Me” was the perfect opener to welcome the crowd, with Smith quickly removing the hat to reveal bleach blond hair. The next massive tune was “I’m Not The Only One”, with the entire arena singing as Smith walked down the stairs during the second verse, waving and blowing kisses to fans. You could feel the energy from the first three song openers, echoing up to the rafters, and it continued with Sam Smith on the stage floor for the gospel-leaning “Like I Can”, with fans joining their idol and the background singers’ gorgeous “oohs” like a grand Forum Greek chorus was brought to church.

The superstar spoke to their crowd, “I’m nervous, LA, you’ve got me sweating”, said Smith. “Welcome everyone to the GLORIA tour. When I drove up here it took me back to my first arena tour when I was 21 years old. I just want to say to every person from the bottom of my heart, thank you for sticking by my side. It’s also really hot in here, so let’s get steaming. This show is about one thing —it’s about freedom. Let’s sing, let’s dance, let’s get naked, not too naked”. They embraced all three of the background singers and joined them by the shoulder of the giant angel along with a guitarist playing an acoustic version of “Too Good At Goodbyes”, seated with the outstanding singers. They smiled a lot, waved and blew more kisses to fans, like they were inviting us all to their living room.

It was time for the first costume change, and Smith reappeared, rising up like a choir child or baby Jesus, in a loose white number with glossy gold pants, joined by Jessie Reyez for the first of their collabs, “Perfect”. Smith sat atop the neck of the angel and Jessie was on the stage, harmonizing together, with a guitar solo in the middle. On the 2020 infectious soul-pop tune “Diamonds”, Smith was center stage, squatting with the gold mic stand, working their way suggestively to the floor and opening their legs, which the fans totally ate up. Later they spun around in their glowing white shirt. A pair of two of Smith’s most addicting mid tempo hits were next, with Smith stating “This one right here is my favorite”, ahead of “How Do You Sleep?”, leaning against their golden angel, as the groovy R&B tune found Smith meeting up with their guitarist by the end of the total bop. Smith’s two female background singers had their backs to the crowd for the start of “Dancing With A Stranger” with Smith in the middle, gyrating their body, the three performers snapping their fingers front and center. Smith’s falsetto was perfect and these will stand up as two of the singer’s best pop hits. The Normani-featured hit “Stranger” and “Sleep” (both from 2019) completely put Smith back on the map following years of mostly balladlike hits. 

For Act II, BEAUTY captured a feeling of romantic love, vulnerability and even simplicity with choir voices kicking off the section. It was a bold statement, with Smith taking the stage again, this time in a blue and pink princess dress for “Kissing You” (a cover of Des’ree’s “I’m Kissing You”). The entrance with a bow alone got 15 seconds of applause, but the absolutely beautiful piano ballad meant even more. Smith’s vocal, flourished with amazing runs, probably reminding fans that there truly is no other singer at their level right now. It was met with purple and pink lights enveloping the stage. Smith gave a shout to Romy/Ruth O’Mahoney-Brady on the piano during her instrumental. Smith curtsied at the end.

“LA, do you like my dress?”, asked Smith. “I’ve gotta say, my amazing boyfriend made me this dress. Give him a round of applause! It’s fucking heavy”. [It was made by Christian Cowan, who has dressed everyone from Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez to Miley Cyrus and Cardi B.] “So two years ago I was at home in England with my dog and I was finishing this album Gloria and when I made this album it was a very, very different time in the world. We couldn’t do what we are doing tonight in this room and I missed you guys so much. It was the first time I stopped traveling and singing since I was 19 years old. It hit me why I do what I do and it’s because I get to spend every day of my life with incredible musicians and artists and writers and dancers. I decided I would use this time to properly celebrate those people.

They introduced background singer LaDonna, who took over the 2nd verse of the sensational, dramatic “Lay Me Down” with the crowd’s cell phone lights lit up for extra impact. Smith also introduced Patrick Linton, who has been singing with Smith for 10 years and who they consider a “rock in my life”. Linton kicked off an incredible vocal on “Love Goes” (beautifully produced by Labrinth) with dancers in shimmering outfits swaying back and forth as Smith joined in. Six dancers joined by the middle of the song, prancing and jumping across the stage in front of Linton and Smith. They danced atop the golden angel, and some lovely orchestral music rounded out a rather special moment. The fans cheered when one dancer stood at the middle of the angel, symbolic of perhaps the freedom Sam Smith strived for all along on this GLORIA tour.

The same dancer lay atop the golden angel, and once the beat hit for 2023 single “Gimme”, the thrusting started and it was clear fans were in for the portion of the tour that was to get a bit more wild. If BEAUTY was previously about romantic love, the second half was about enjoying every moment with friends, while also savoring in all the trappings of fame. Jessie Reyez was back for the catchy dancehall number, with the dancers thrusting, twerking and grinding while Smith was in all black with a shimmering belt. The house song “Lose You” took the Forum to the club, with two dancers surrounding Smith and two others colliding with one another on top of the angel as blue/indigo lights and strobes let loose. Ahead of “Promises”, Smith said “shout out to Calvin Harris”, the superstar producer and DJ who has worked with the pop star on at least three songs. The solid dance-pop track was visualized with a stellar production on the stage with lighting and dancing that did not disappoint. It was followed by another Harris-produced tune “I’m Not Here To Make Friends”, a pure disco song, with all of the dancers atop the angel, placing a rather large pink flamingo coat on their fearless. In a true nod to the 70s disco era, it was blended with a few bars of Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and then back to “I’m Not Here To Make Friends”. It was a memorable moment and a disco dancer by the name of Sakeema was joined by Smith center stage.

Strobe lights hit the dancers and the whole place was sparkling as Smith returned this time in street clothes including a pink jacket and jeans while Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” was tangled up in the chaos of sound. Smith said, “Let me see you jump” and early Disclosure dance track “Latch” had the crowd clapping along, dancing and taking in the wonderful laser and strobe show. Under glowing colors like you’ve never seen on a cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, Smith removed the jacket, danced stage right with dancers surrounding them, tore off their shirt and went down the hatch.

The third and final Act III SEX was upon us and more choral music took hold with golden lighting ahead of the next performance. Sam Smith returned to the stage, rising in a translucent robe with a wreath on their head. They have really transformed —they are not your regular church boy anymore. “Gloria” had echoing choral voices and Smith hit their notes miraculously on the a cappella hymn. This was the calm before the storm, where Smith glorified debauchery and exploration. Smith then disrobed revealing a black S&M outfit with a thong, nipple covers, a black sleeve and a red one. The daring moment found Smith glistening from sweat, basically baring all and perhaps accepting all of themself, unapologetically. They have become a cultural figure for body positivity and it was unexpected, with their tongue out by the song’s end, posing with the dancers who took selfies with one another in a voyeuristic way. The biggie was next —”Unholy”— that rare song that makes your heart race and special guest Kim Petras joined for the mayhem of this trap/electro-pop banger. Smith had devil horns and a massive staff, while Petras was bloodied and fire was blazing from behind the golden angel they performed above. It was a major moment for both artists, and one that defines a new era for Sam Smith in the pop stratosphere. While there was no encore, the set went for about 100 plus minutes and concluded with Smith’s collaboration with Madonna, house song “Vulgar” with the dancers reveling in the moment atop the angel one more time.