The barely legal crowd members impatiently stomped their Stan Smiths during the latter half of the two-hour DJ set, awaiting Jorja Smith’s entrance. The venue that once had enough room for fans to dance along to opener Aaron Axelsen’s impressive selections suddenly condensed into a sold-out crowd of bodies packing the room. Fans stood shoulder to shoulder, inching closer to the stage, trying but failing to maintain the relaxed R&B nature of the show. Suddenly, the energy visibly reverberated through the pit, to the back of the crowd and up into the balcony as Smith walked out, serving looks as impressive as her voice.
With a shaved head, black choker and hoops as big as her nails, Jorja Smith was the baddest bitch in the building. And the crowd ate it up.
Smith appeared unattainable at first, with a bone structure that seemed molded and a face that glistened beyond her impeccable highlight. She was effortless but bold, somehow encompassing the antitheses simultaneously, creating a form of perfection that seemed out of reach. At only 19, the up-and-coming star was too beautiful to be real. But her eyes, widening with each bright smile, immediately pulled everyone in.
Suddenly, the Rickshaw Stop felt like a friend’s cozy garage. We wanted nothing more than to sit on a couch with the artist that managed to make it beyond her SoundCloud profile.
Mirroring her idols in style and range, Smith embodied the perfect cross between Rihanna and Amy Winehouse in both appearance and talent. She walked the stage like she owned it, letting her voice dictate the show.
Based on her start with “Something in the Way,” she seemed skilled enough to surpass the need to work in a studio, and the band followed suit. Each musician’s passion infected the audience, encouraging everyone to feel as excited as Smith seemed to be as she completed her first U.S. tour.
“Hello San Francisco,” her thick British accent seeping through, the loving innocence drawing the audience in with every word. There was no indication that this was Smith’s first time performing in the States, as the crowd knew every word to her songs, snapping and clapping along as she performed “Carry Me Home,” featuring Maverick Sabre, whom she brought out.
Smith sang so comfortably; the process seemed as simple as breathing. Her crooning voice sedated when it needed to, serving as a lullaby with the slow riffs, and pierced when it had to during the faster verses. Little by little, fans learned more about Smith, who was named Best New Artist by Pigeons and Planes. With only about 7 songs at her disposal, a short set was expected. Smith, however, used this opportunity to present herself as a person as she explained her pieces between each performance. She let fans fall in love with her — not just her talent.
Smith explained the origins of her songs, where she was during that time and how that influenced her music. She befriended the crowd with her authenticity, taking us through losing a friend in “Goodbye” and her solemn years after moving to London in “Lonely,” cheekily joking “Don’t laugh at me; I have friends now.” Despite her heightened emotion during the performance, her talent never wavered. She’s 19 and performing in venues throughout the nation, but she treated her fans as though they were friends she’d share a lunch table with.
The black choker and “Hollaween” T-shirt didn’t seem intimidating anymore — if anything, she seemed like one of us, tapping into nostalgia and relishing in 2000s R&B as she covered Mario’s “Let Me Love You.” Smith’s refreshing authenticity and endearing personality won the hearts of her first sold-out crowd in the Bay Area. She may have thanked San Francisco for “being her little choir” before exiting the stage, but truly, the pleasure was ours.
Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].