Jorja Smith @ 02 Academy, 13th October 2018

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This evening’s show is pretty much as close to a homecoming as Smith could have hoped to achieve given the lack of suitable sized venues in her home town of the neighbouring Walsall. Having previously performed at the likes of the nearby The Sunflower Lounge, and the adjacent, though considerably smaller 02 Academy 2 venue, this is Smith’s first outing in the city since the release of her much heralded debut album ‘Lost & Found’.

The recent hammering of rainfall that has hung across this part of the world in recent weeks — on account of Storms Ali and Bronagh – has finally relented, giving way to the long awaited arrival of the Indian summer, a welcome respite for the thousand or so fans already queuing from the Academy’s entrance, right the way back towards the Holloway Circus roundabout, past the Pagoda Island, up towards Bath Row, well in advance of the venue’s doors being unbolted to receive the meandering masses.

Many in the vast queue will likely be seeing Smith on stage for the first time, no doubt eager to hear how a summer spent honing her live performance at festivals all over the globe has had on the material that they know so very well. Despite the elevated temperatures, the skies remain ominously overcast, and the zealous winds whipping their way around the queues beckon that eerie sense of anticipation that greets the imminent arrival of a storm. All of which, adds to the sense of excitement that is palpable around the venue this evening.

Those who subscribe to the notion that breaking into the music industry, let alone, establishing yourself in the pool of those artists that are not only commercially successful, but also, critically acclaimed, must exhibit the components that make up a formula akin to: talent + luck + timing = the world is your oyster, would likely review Jorja Smith’s application to join this exclusive club as a given. Finding themselves reaching for the rubber stamp emblazoned with “APPROVED!” the moment the papers landed in front of them. All these attributes are likely applicable to Smith, though it is refreshing to observe that her trajectory has been less of a stampede for global domination and more of a gradual growth and nurturing process.

Despite the numerous endorsements from the likes of Drake back in late 2016 – which caused millions of social media users to avert their gaze firmly in the direction of the bright new thing developing in the borough of Walsall – it seems that Smith and her management were in no rush to capitalise upon such hysteria. Instead, Smith has sought to develop and sharpen her craft before unleashing it to public scrutiny. A celestial poise that is manifested in Smith herself as she reveals herself before a fervent audience, already whipped up by the sterling efforts of the support of Mina Rose.

With a stage sparingly decorated, except for several super trouper lights beaming from the stage and the exceptional live band, Smith emerges to rapturous reception from the sellout crowd. The opening song is the title track from the album and it is ceremoniously greeted by thousands of arms raising their phones in union, grasping at the record buttons for fear of missing a single moment. Though a pet peeve of many a concert goer these days, the preoccupation with the phones gradually subsides in favour of a crowd firmly existing within the moment.

During ‘Lost & Found’; Smith’s famously stoic facial expression is overthrown by a beaming smile at those moments her ardent audience, singing along to every word, valiantly attempt to stay with her on those moments she flips to the upper reaches of her range. It’s a truly sweet and memorable situation that represents itself over the course of the evening, much to the delight of Smith.

‘Teenage Fantasy’ and ‘Something In the Way’ are followed by ‘Feb 3rd’ and ‘The One’; adeptly demonstrating Smith’s ability to articulate the pains of the heat from the seemingly unsullied and innocent perspective of unrequited teenage love, to a darker and more emotionally fraught perspective. On’The One’, Smith delivers a sublime vocal, one which will surely result in her name being added to the list of contenders for a shot at the much coveted Bond theme song further down the line.

Smith seems to exhibit a duality in her performance. At times, she appears like something so untouchable and exquisite, so far removed from the everyday, moments later, we see her explore the minutia of those turbulent emotions almost every teenager will have had to contend with at some point. Her songwriting is so immersed in the everyday and it is so simple, not only in terms of the melodies, but in the directness of the lyrics, all of which can’t help but to strike at the core.

This is exactly what Smith manages to achieve with the likes of ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’; the latter leaving the vast room in a stunned silence, though only for a few seconds at the song’s culmination, those few seconds are telling as to just how captivated the audience are, lost in a seemingly effortless performance.

The encore see’s Smith return with the familiar notes of ‘Blue Light’s’ chiming out across the Academy, the song that arguably brought Smith to the attention of the world. This final portion of the evening brings with it the welcome addition of another Midland rookie, in the form of Birmingham rapper, Jaykae. The room erupts for the umpteenth time. This has been quite the homecoming for Smith as she continues her patient and determined steps towards cementing herself on the musical landscape of the world.

Reviewer: Chris Curtis

Photographer: Andy Watson

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