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Review: Sam Smith lightens the mood in joyful concert at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

We should all can the sad-boy talk. Live and in person, Sam Smith smiles a lot.

He smiles before and after almost every song, waving and pointing to the crowd. He even smiles when singing all his huge, heart-filled hits – yes, even the really, really sad ones.

"When I finished my second album, I was sitting in my house and thinking about the tour and listening to the music, and I realized that my music is really, really depressing,"Smith told a crowd of more than 11,000 at Tampa's Amalie Arena Friday night. "And it would have been my worst nightmare for you guys to leave this room tonight feeling like s—."

Nah, not possible, not anymore. Smith has been a modern poster boy for melancholic pop, but at 26, he's matured into a leave-'em-grinning showman, fluent not just in moods but also vibes. As a result the show felt lighter, freer, more engaging and invested than Smith's first and most recent Tampa performance three years ago.

Oh, make no mistake, there was still drama to spare up on stage. Smith rose into view from below deck, hunched in a chair, illuminated by a spotlight overhead, for the somber Burning. Him, a song about religious judgment of one's sexuality, seethed with righteousness bordering on wrath, ending with beams of rainbow lights.

And for his Oscar-winning James Bond theme Writing's On the Wall, he floated up on a riser, his back to an enormous, blooming, golden obelisk behind him and his band. It was a display of big-budget Hollywood grandiosity brought to life.

But just then, right as things were about getting too heavy, Smith deflated the room.

"How f—ing dramatic was that?" he said.

Sam Smith performed at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on July 13, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Smith's not really one for choreography, but his feet found their way around a bisexually-lighted stage on Omen and ecstatically churchy Nirvana. Money on My Mind exploded around a galloping kickdrum and electric guitar, a la Ed Sheeran's Castle on the Hill. He kept the flow breezy by dipping into doo-wop and classic soul, letting loose his inner Sam and Otis on One Last Song, I'm Not the Only One, Midnight Train and Baby, You Make Me Crazy. You wouldn't think a breakup ballad like Too Good at Goodbyes could feel hopeful and celebratory, but Smith made it so, instructing each fan to "sing it to your ex."

Like I Can was soul-stirring and life-affirming, kicking the heartbeat up a tick or two. And his band joined him out on his pointy peninsula of a stage – yes, there was a keytar involved – for an irrepressible Restart, a song that hopefully portends Smith embracing his hopefully not-too-distant future singing nostalgic, colorful '80s-style pop.

With all the fun he seemed to be having, by the time he did get to his most wrenching song of the night — One Day at a Time, a newer addition to the setlist — it felt like an earned emotional break. And, of course, he was up and smiling again before we all knew it.

Also happy throughout the night was country singer-songwriter Cam, an unlikely choice of opener who nevertheless fit right in. (Seriously, if you had to pick a pop setting where a faithful cover of Patsy Cline's Sweet Dreams would feel right at home, a Sam Smith show would be right up there.)

Sam Smith performed at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on July 13, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Stampeding into her set with drum-kicking hoot Diane, she, too, trafficked in feel-good feels, sparkling and beaming and dishing out life lessons between otherwise sensitive ballads Burning House and just-dropped single The Road to Happiness.

"Success doesn't equal happiness," she said before that last one. "We keep putting the happiness off, saying, 'I'll have it when…' That's not how it works. It's here, now, in this present moment."

Happiness at a Sam Smith concert – who knew? Yes, there might have been a couple tears shed here and there as rosy confetti petals fell during the comfy hug of Stay With Me. But there were way more people singing, couples embracing and strangers swaying, and Smith, of all guys, was the one who made it happen. Awful hard to feel sad about that.

— Jay Cridlin

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