Before the second song of Sam Smith’s set at TD Garden on Tuesday night, the British balladeer did something that seemed out of character: He smiled. The voice behind spare, sad hits like “Stay With Me,” “I’m Not the Only One,” and “Too Good at Goodbyes” is seen as something of a pop miserablist, his expansive falsetto and ruminative lyrics coming together on songs that plumb heartbreak’s deepest corners. But his fast-paced show on Tuesday was more a celebration of that pain than a wallowing in it, with Smith enticing the crowd into sing-alongs, recalling the 2014 House of Blues show that doubled as his US live debut, and even getting in some self-deprecating asides here and there.
Smith’s second album, last year’s “The Thrill of It All,” showed how the singer’s lyrical view expanded in the time since he won an armful of Grammys (including best new artist) in 2015. The stormy “HIM,” which he introduced Tuesday by declaring himself as “a proud gay man,” uses simply stated observations from a young gay man in Mississippi to take on homophobia and intolerance, while the delicate “Scars” is a knotty letter to his mother and father, Smith’s breathy voice speaking simultaneously to the conflicts and comfort that can arise in parent-child relationships. While the sentiments underneath were complex, Smith’s commanding performance of both made their emotional impact very simple to understand.
Smith’s clearly a fan of soul and dance music, as evidenced by the nods to both during his set; he dropped the 1992 Luther Vandross-Janet Jackson duet “The Best Things in Life Are Free” into the defiant “Like I Can” and harkened back to his collaborations with the English electro duo Disclosure. The camaraderie he had with his band, particularly his four backup singers, gave added oomph to even the show’s quieter moments, with the encore-opening duet “Palace” — a duet with belter Lucy Jules — acting as the night’s emotional climax, the two raising each others’ stakes in thrilling fashion.
Country belter Cam’s fiery persona is backed up by her rich voice and sterling songwriting, which honors country’s past while taking the pro-woman lyrics of elders like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton into the 21st century. “Diane,” the opening act’s most recent single, is a smoldering cheatin’-heart apologia sung from the perspective of the other woman in Parton’s “Jolene”; her cover on Tuesday of Cline’s “Sweet Dreams,” meanwhile, showed off her robust voice and exquisite phrasing.
“Do we have some country music fans in the house?” she asked near the close of her set. The screams from the nearly full arena were a clear affirmative answer, as well as a reasoning behind this concert season’s most compelling trend, in which solo female country singers are teaming up with solo male pop stars whose styles lean toward soul and rock. (Last week, genre-busting singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves opened for former One Directioner Harry Styles at the Garden; in September, Maren Morris, who’s made a splash on pop radio with the Zedd-helmed bounce “The Middle,” opens for Styles’s former bandmate Niall Horan at the Xfinity Center.) This is in part because women, particularly those who defy genre conventions, have become something of an afterthought on country radio playlists lately; Cam noted this dryly when she mentioned a “sex-positive” song of hers being anathema to programmers, then grinned and snapped: “So I wrote something sexier.” Country radio’s loss, it seems, is pop’s gain.
With Cam. At TD Garden, TuesdayMaura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.