Jorja Smith Continues to Impress with a Captivating Night at Subterranean

There is something particularly special about Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in Chicago. Every show I’ve had the pleasure of going to in the series has been handled with all the grandness it deserves, no matter the venue or artists on the bill. So to see Subterranean completely packed for an evening of fantastic R&B performers wasn’t surprising, but it felt much more impactful. The lineup of Aalegra Snoh, Dizzy Fae, and Jorja Smith couldn’t have been more deserving of a sold out 30 Days in Chicago treatment, and they certainly gave as much back to the crowd.

Snoh Aalegra’s sound stuck a cord with it’s the strong neo-soul vibe. She was a great primer for the night, setting the tone with her haunting vocals. Like Jorja Smith, Aalegra’s voice served as a centerpiece on tracks off of Drake’s More Life. That sort of cosign shouldn’t be taken lightly as Aalegra lives up to it with interesting and complex songs. Her voice stood strong amidst the rest of the lineup, but there was definitely switch with Dizzy Fae came to the stage. Fae’s set felt looser and much more relaxed. If anything it felt that Fae was having more fun with her songs, letting them playing into the incredibly energetic crowd with ease.

Having seen Jorja Smith earlier this year, I figured I knew what to expect. However this show took a more low key approach. She wasn’t dancing around stage or wearing a lavish outfit. Smith opted to sit center stage throughout and instead of the big band she had at Schubas, a paired down version of just a couple musicians joined her. I feared for a moment that this would not live up to here previous Chicago show, but those fears subsided the moments she began singing “Beautiful Little Fools”.

Starting off with one of her more powerful songs was a great statement for the rest of the night. The entire set took twists and turns that I certainly wasn’t expecting. Her epic cover of “Ready or Not” and her part in Drake’s “Get It Together” where nowhere to be heard this time around. Smith’s sound took a much more acoustic approach, eschewing those more bombastic sounds for subtlety. Smith’s  voice already played with nuance and grace, but this set up put much more of a spotlight on it than before. The setlist took note of that and completely redefined her songs. “Don’t Watch Me Cry” “Teenage Fantasy” felt sadder and more powerful sandwiched between her new song “On Your Own” and “Blue Lights”. She was crafting a story with the progression of the night, one that was deeper and fuller.

There were a few things that remained from previous performances that were a welcome treat. One of which was Maverick Sabre joinin Smith for a few songs in the middle of the set, reaffirming their chemistry and complexity. “Carry Me Home” popped brightest as the duo sung about a broken relationship with palpable emotion. Sabre carries himself with such confidence that Smith couldn’t help but be as captivated with his voice as the rest of the audience.

Jorja Smith ended the night with an achingly beautiful cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost”. As she serenaded the crowd with the song’s themes of drugs, money, and the never ending cycle they create, one couldn’t help but notice just how much she brought to the cover. She turned the lyrics around a bit, shifting the perspective from the original’s narrator to that of the girl being sung about. It became a sadder realization of hardships, something that Smith is an expert of portraying with her emotive voice. Smith’s take on the chorus, “I’m lost, lost in the heat of it all” was pristine and reflected exactly how the audience felt in that moment. It’s hard not to get lost in Smith’s performances. She radiates such an amazing presence that will surely be skyrocketing into bigger venues. For now, I’m glad I was able to experience her in an intimate space again.

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Julian Ramirez
Julian Ramirez