Corey Smith is a performer at odds with his own message. “I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a raging alcoholic,” said the singer somewhere around the midway point of his sold-out two-hour show Saturday at the Sinclair, by way of introducing yet another song about drinking. But while Smith’s words and the toothy grin with which he delivered them bespeak partying, his music and flat demeanor were too subdued to back them up.
That’s not to say that Smith was his own dour buzzkill. He brought an easygoing good humor to his songs, which were boilerplate singer-songwriter fare but driven by country themes of regret, partying hard, and seeking wisdom in the mundane realities of life. But he lacked the crucial country virtue of irony. That’s tricky enough with something like “Flip-Flop” (where he compared himself with footwear), but it sank the self-mythologizing rap of “Chattanooga.”
And it teetered on disastrous with the lopsided country gait of “I Love Everyone” (or as Smith is unofficially calling it, “I Love Black People”). In the hands of, say, Randy Newman, the song could have had the subversive kick of skewering both its fans and its detractors. Instead, Smith’s earnestness made it seem calculatedly unobjectionable, an irony in itself.
Even Smith’s songs about boozing often didn’t have the kick they called out for. “Drinkin’ Again” was blandly frisky, while the drum bounce and clavinet honk of “$8 Bottle of Wine” gave it a bare hint of funk. Smith fared better with more pensive material like the sad, airy “When the Sun Goes Down in Georgia” and the old-timey front-porch folk of “Walk Around Me Jesus.”
Not that anyone noticed. The crowd’s constant rowdiness drowned out most of the quieter numbers, though it roared with increased approval at songs like the zippy locomotive chug of “Party,” thanks in part to the invitation to shout the title back at Smith on the chorus. But that enthusiasm could be fickle, as there was no call for an encore. He gave one anyway, and four songs later, what started as a sold-out show had emptied out about halfway. Smith may have brought the party, but the party apparently had other ideas.
Australia’s Got Talent champion Joe Robinson, 21, opened the show, and with bluesy, speedy guitar heroics peppering wan sensitive-guy songs, he appeared to have grown up on a steady diet of John Mayer.