Live Review: Jorja Smith at O2 Academy

Wind and rain (and, almost, a bus) batter my pal and I as we approach the O2 Academy. Outside, a lengthy queue extends around the side of the building, offering partial shelter to the many fans outside. The box office line is the same length as the ticketed one, full of people hoping to nab a last-minute ticket. I feel doubly blessed to get inside not totally drenched, and to have been allocated seated tickets up in the balcony.

Support act Mina Rose kicks things off upon arrival, with an effortless and silky-smooth energy intertwined with upbeat sound-system vibes fresh from SE London. Rose’s energy is also contagious and patient, and she’s certainly one to keep an eye on in the future. She’s happy to go along with the initially unfortunate ‘apathetic audience’ routine, for a while. Eventually though, Rose wins the crowd around by getting everyone singing along, as per her instructions. She thanks the crowd and calls the time shared a blessing, before making way for Jorja Smith.

Smith’s band arrive on stage first, laying down introductory music, and everyone in the venue that can appreciate music immediately recognises how tight the musicians on stage are. Walking across the stage, the word “goddess” comes to mind and the crowd erupts to welcome the Walsall native onto the stage. Emanating a gentle and sweet presence, she flashes a dazzling smile when a group of fans scream after she waves at them. The crowd sing along all the way through first track, ‘Lost & Found’. Smith’s vocals are instantly outstanding and the crowd’s response steps up a level during ‘Teenage Fantasy’, as she lets the crowd sing the choruses.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of live music and I can honestly say she has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. The band are also outstanding, and she steps aside occasionally to let people appreciate each member individually as they indulge in solos. Sitting away from the front and up in the rafters, I was worried about poor acoustics or sound set up but it honestly wouldn’t have made a difference. It’s likely that Smith’s voice would have reached and touched everyone in the venue even without a microphone. Somehow her vocal performance steps up a notch during ‘Tomorrow’ as she hits every note easier than spreading soft butter on toast.

Freestyle track ‘Lifeboats’ was obviously given to the band to play with, and the crowd aren’t left disappointed. The importance and impact the band have on the live performance is strongly underlined. They are all impeccably talented, and Smith introduces each one before taking a seat to let them spread their wings, absolutely transforming the album version into a whole new beast. Somehow, after the band absolutely kill it, Smith’s vocals don’t sound undermined upon returning to sing Black Panther OST track, ‘I Am’. This introduces a different tone to the performance, and nods to collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. This is also a reminder that she has already worked with huge names and chose to keep her debut album purely Jorja Smith, because she knows exactly what she’s capable of – being as big as the names she’s already worked with.

Some unplugged songs like ‘Goodbyes’ and encore track, ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’, accentuate that Smith is still young, exploring her youth with a timeless voice. There’s a sort of gentle and strong confidence about Smith that undoubtedly leaves a mark on everyone in the room. Throughout the gig, people were singing along, dancing on the balcony, and Smith acknowledged the crowd as the best on tour. Finishing with the acoustic version of ‘On My Mind’, she thanks the Glasgow crowd again, who were outstanding, before launching into the Preditah version of the track. Voices like Smith’s are few and far between and she is a rare example of someone who can actually sound better live than on a record. If you get a chance to go see her live, don’t miss out.


By Anthony Florida-James