Whilst the name John Smith may be one of the most used names in the English language, the Essex born singer’s music evokes originality and emotion that is far from generic. From start to finish, Smith captivated his audience as all eyes were on him throughout the entire performance. There were no airs and graces with this gig as there was no need for it; all that was required was his vocals and moving lyrics.
There was no support act on Monday evening so the night kicked off with John walking onto the stage with his guitar and going straight into his first track “Far Too Good”. From the get go, his voice and Jose Gonzalez-esque guitaring mesmerised the audience. There was no chatter between the crowd, everyone just sat and listened in awe. He then was able to change the dynamic in the room with a simple “cheers” after he played as everyone went from silence to giggles.
This simple note of thanks led us straight into the next track “Freezing Winds of Change“, from the 2013 album Great Lakes. It is incredibly apparent from John’s performance that each and every track is personal in some way to him. He is able to completely get into his own zone whilst singing but manages to bring the audience in on the emotion of his lyrics. You could be a huge fan of Smith’s or you could have merely stumbled into Black Box on a whim and still felt the passion in the tracks.
The night was a beautiful mixture of old and new which included songs from his first album (which became a bit of a running joke throughout the night). He setlist included the likes of “Undone”, “Desire” and “Joanna“. It was very refreshing to have a lot of the tracks introduced before they were sang so we had the context. One that really stood out to me was the track “Something Terrible”. John explained that “Saying my first record always makes me sound quite experienced and important. I hate people that say that. I thought I’d do a ten year anniversary tour of my first record… Then I listened to it… It’s not good.” The audience laughed along and these funny little anecdotes became a natural part of the performance.
I think the standout, non-music related moment, was watching Smith fix a broken string on his guitar on stage whilst telling the story of a bat that was in his room the other night (which was backed up by his Twitter in case you wondered). The banter and music continued as more beautiful tracks such as “The Perfect Storm”, Living in Disgrace” and “Save My Life” were played. It was one of those rare gigs where you’re to engrossed to even take a sip of your beer. I kept looking around me and just noticed everyone’s eyes on that stage. The night was not limited to only John Smith songs as he opted to sing a cover of Kelly Joe Phelps’ song “If I Prove False” – a track he recorded with Irish singer Cara Dillon. It was the cherry to see such a beautiful cover of an iconic song.
After a massive thank you to those of us that came out on a Monday John finished his set with the Great Lakes track “Salty and Sweet” before sauntering off the stage. Of course everyone stayed sitting for a few moments just in case there was to be an encore…. there was. John walked back on stage acting as though he had forgotten his bottle of water. He asked an audience member for the lend of a chair and then told us the story of when he and his mate were robbed in Liverpool; this song was the subsequent creation of that incident. He placed his guitar on his lap and sang the song “Winter” from his first album.
From start to finish John Smith gave the people in Black Box a damn good reason to go out on a Monday night. It was a night of laughing, fabulous vocals and incredible guitar work. He stated that he would be back in Belfast and I hope it is sooner rather than later.