Before the show even started, the atmosphere at Schubas felt different. A pretty large contingent of fans had arrived early; squeezed up tightly against the stage and each other, occupying every inch of free space. They were hyped, talking about Jorja Smith with the highest of reverence and how amazing the show would be. At the time I didn’t realize just how right they were. Jorja Smith’s Chicago debut was a particularly stunning show bereft of unneeded showy spectacle that pop soul/R&B singers bring with them. The focus was on her magnificent voice and fantastic band, making for a memorable night.
Alcordo took the first spot of the night and immediately delighted the crowd, singing gracefully over tracks handle by DJ Evie the Cool. She fit right in with the soulful R&B revival vibe that the night had going. Much like Jorja Smith, Alcordo evokes the style of 90s R&B and brings in into a modern setting successfully. Although there was little too much emphasis on selling her brand through repeated shout outs to her Soundcloud and social media presence that slowed her down, Alcordo made up for it with tight songs that did not falter. Her voice glided through the beats with finesse, especially on a cover of Eryka Badu’s “Window Seat” and her own “No Good”, which stood out in her opening set.
As Alcordo exited to a sea of fans taking selfies and following back to the merch table, more people crowded in toward the front ready to see Jorja Smith. Sold out Schubas shows are fun sight and this one topped most as the band set up on stage and Smith entered through the side door to a loud cheer from her audience. She was all smiles and absolutely ready to perform.
Smith lived up to the hype immediately, starting off her set with the “Something in the Way”. The fluidity between Smith and her band was infectious and had the crowd grooving along. They were singing along with Smith just as loudly as they would during “Teenage Fantasty”, a song with a simple theme of wanting what you can’t have and not wanting once you have it. Smith’s vocal performance and passion during the song gave it a deeper and more biting feeling, something that few other musicians in her genre tend to feed into their songs.
It’s that enduring talent that makes it difficult not to compare Smith to performers like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Her vocal style is so incredibly reminiscent of theirs, from her lush singing in “Beautiful Little Fools” to her moments of solid flow in “Imperfect Circle” and “Blue Lights”. After “Tomorrow”, Smith gave the audience a little taste of the Fugees’ “Ready or Not”, sending the crowd into an ecstatic roar. Smith twists that old school style with elements of 70s soul and a modern sensibility that feels genuine and impressive.
Smith’s set was full of highlights that built on each other, from her loving song with special guest Maverk Sabre “Carry Me Home” to “Get It Together”, a Drake song on which she is clearly the star. The heartwarming “Goodbyes” showed off a serious and motion side of Smith that elicited aws from the crowd. No matter what the song she was performing, Smith’s stage presence wass invigorating and her chemistry with her fans was always on fire. It won’t be long before we see her commanding audiences at huge venues.
When she left the stage the crowd was audibly and visibly distressed. They needed more and even though there surely would be, they still lamented any time without Jorja in their presence. Upon her return, Smith stood on stage with a spotlight shining down on her during “Don’t Watch Me Cry”. It was the most distilled moment of her voice carrying a song to an emotional finish and it truly felt magical. Jorja Smith has something special and everyone who was at Schubas witnessed an intimate performance from someone on the precipice of stardom.