Almost every major pop act – and particularly those with an album to promote – has organised some kind of digital concert this year. Billie Eilish’s last week was a technologically advanced feast; Sam Smith’s on Friday, to mark their third album, Love Goes, was a technological nightmare.
Due to begin at 8pm, the codes provided wouldn’t grant access. Further blockades were erected when the whole site the stream was being hosted on decided to give up. Logging into Twitter, it appeared that I wasn’t alone: other fans were also experiencing difficulties, many calling for refunds (tickets cost £10). This only intensified when it seemed that the stream, which it turned out wasn’t actually live at all but pre-recorded, had started and people still couldn’t get in.
It took 75 minutes from my first attempt logging in to finally be granted access. Disappointingly, I was dropped in at the tail end of the set, rather than the beginning. I caught five songs in total, including Top 10 hit How Do You Sleep?, For The Lover That Lost, Kids Again, Labrinth duet Love Goes and Smith’s signature Stay With Me.
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Was it the unmissable event that I had been promised, an innovative and intimate compensation for all the live music we’ve so cruelly missed out on this year? Not really. Standing, socially distanced, with their backing singers and band, Smith performed their songs like any other kind of promotional content that might be shared on YouTube to bump up streams for a single release. The only change was the use of some clever lighting during How Do You Sleep?, which bathed the studio in blue light, emphasising the ominous mood of the song.
Really, it’s disingenuous to call this a live stream. From what I could gather from the short amount I was privy to, Sam Smith Live at Abbey Road Studios felt more like a documentary peppered with performances.
Smith should be the perfect fit for the hallowed halls of Abbey Road. Their voice is transcendent, and they convey such pathos when they sing that you can understand why their music has connected with so many. Yet their emotional pull still failed to translate through the screen. Maybe the rest of the stream felt more captivating. I couldn’t tell you; I was stuck on an error page.