TORONTO — Jorja Smith didn't need an album out to win over a sold-out crowd at The Opera House. All she needed was a pair of pink Nikes and some unparalleled vocal chops.
On Sunday night, Smith performed her second concert of her two-show residency in Toronto, taking the adoring audience through a 16-song-set filled with fan favorites off her debut EP “Project 11” and album cuts from her upcoming record “Lost & Found.” The audience’s attention was hard to break for Smith, despite playing roughly five unreleased and unheard tracks for fans.
Still, when Smith walked out on stage for opener “Something in the Way,” she proved that very little could get in her way or interfere with her light.
The singer powered through the track, throwing in tasteful vocal run after tasteful vocal run, smiling at her adoring audience. For a track off a two-year-old EP, the opening song saw nearly the most audience involvement of the night.
Shortly after, Smith treated fans to “Teenage Fantasy,” a cut that showed off her near-masterful pipes and ability to avoid any type of vocal strain despite her heavenly tone and range. The drummer kept the groove going and Smith, whose voice echoed through the classic venue, swayed with ease in her elegant white dress and massive grin.
Even with her popular tracks creating an uproar in the crowd, Smith made sure to throw in some covers which were so authentic they could’ve been mistaken for originals.
Possibly the most fitting for Smith’s voice was her rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” a funky take on an early ‘00s R&B classic. Throughout the track, Smith smiled and sang along with her adoring fans and the few security guards who clearly loved their jobs.
Smith’s next cover was Frank Ocean’s “Lost.” In between audience comments of “this is my favorite Frank song,” Smith sang along with her keyboardist for her first verse, before the rest of Smith’s backing band — which also composed of percussion, bass and guitar — tagged along with the duo. The unique take on an Ocean-classic saw some of the loudest audience applause of the night.
But even with her inclusion of covers, Smith strategically sprinkled her biggest hits among her set.
“I Am,” Smith’s feature on “Black Panther,” had the crowd screaming along to both Smith’s and Kendrick Lamar’s verses. Before Smith even began singing, audience members were erupting with chants, and when Smith gracefully riffed through Lamar’s bridge, the audience was at its near-loudest.
“Blue Lights” saw the simple stage set up fittingly illuminated with blue lights. Once the keyboardist started working his way through the synth, audience banter skyrocketed. Members of the crowd held up lighters, which they snuck in because of the Canada’s friendly concert policies and made the experience feel like something out of a music video. Smith’s voice sounded sweeter and rhaspier live than in the studio for the track and it expertly powered through the entire venue with its spot-on acoustics.
Throughout the show, Smith also planted several unreleased cuts from her upcoming debut album. The most notable was “Goodbyes,” a touching ode to a fallen friend. With hard hitting vocal acrobatics and a powerful chorus transition, the vocalist took her guitarist's jazzy chords and made them something truly meaningful.
But Smith’s vocal highlight wasn’t even “Goodbyes,” it was EP-cut “Imperfect Circle.” Before Smith even started singing, audience member’s sang back her adlibs in the intro. Although they came in a few measures too soon, Smith’s massive grin showed she appreciated the gesture. The best singing started during the track’s breakdown. Smith showcased her graceful falsetto singing “round and round” several times over, giving Minnie Riperton a run for her money. She hit each note spot-on with no hesitation, perfectly mimicking the studio version.
The last song of Smith’s hour long set, including an encore, was her biggest hit “On My Mind.” Smith and her guitarist started the track stripped down for the first verse and chorus, and then revamped the whole track with Preditah’s production the second time around. The song saw the most audience excitement, dancing and enjoyment of the night, as Smith finally gave them what they showed up for.
Even with tracks never heard before and a month to go before she releases her debut album, Smith is already on her way to becoming something special in the industry — and there’s nothing in her way.
Brenton J. Blanchet is the 2019-20 editor-in-chief of The Spectrum. His work has appeared in Billboard, Clash Magazine, DJBooth, PopCrush, The Face and more. Ask him about Mariah Carey.