Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ear the end of his World on Fire 2024 gig, Nate Smith told the sold-out crowd, "I was going to be a nurse."
If he had continued upon that path, he would not have missed out playing "World on Fire" on the Today show and hitting the top of the charts for four consecutive weeks. Not to mention being on the fourth date of his first solo headlining tour. Oh, that was just within the past week.
As if to pinch himself that this just can't be true, Smith was effusive in thanking the crowd for showing up and being supportive and making it clear that life is good. Really good. Now, with some performers, that would have sounded unctuous. Not so with Smith who pretty much indicated he was shocked to be living the dream.
All fine and good, but how about the performance itself?
No worries on that score either especially considering the vocal chops of the burly, 38-year-old California native, and his songs.
Smith was simply a powerhouse vocalist. He played to the tender side on "Better Boy ," a song penned in part by HARDY, where he changed up the presentation by going solo acoustic, as well as "Sleeve" and the first encore song, "Wreckage." The latter was all on Smith's vocals where he sings "But damn, you saw the good/When everyone saw baggage/You loved when no one could." Decidedly heavy, but heartfelt and believable.
Smith rocked it up (Smith skews more to the rock side in his music than country) on the upbeat, crowd pleasure, "LFG" about having fun with the boys and the closing megahit "World on Fire."
Despite having a 26-song deluxe album, Smith played a few unreleased songs presumably from an EP dropping in April. "Wish I Never Felt" and "Hollywood" may not have been as satisfying as the other songs heard over the course of the 75-minute set although the former came close. Perhaps they are working out the songs live.
Smith threw in two well-known covers as well. Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" was a perfect match for Smith with his plaintive vocals and gentle, forlorn melody. Smith rocked through a keening take on Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box." His vocals were a match for Kurt Cobain.
Smith found himself a keeper in guitarist Matthew Christianson, who took over a few songs as needed. At one point, Smith and bassist Michael McDowell went over to watch him play out. Just one more ingredient in a well-conceived show. About the only negative was that with so much material at his disposal, Smith could easily have gone longer. The crowd and he deserved that.
As good a nurse as Smith may have become (he does have a friendly demeanor), it's a good thing he took a career detour. He's still helping others though because it doesn't get much better than nights like this for music fans.
Dylan Schneider opened with a stint that paled in comparison to the headliner. The Indiana native rarely pushed it vocally, and too many of the songs sounded too run of the mill. He has enjoyed success as a songwriter, helping write Dustin Lynch's hit "Momma's House." Schneider gave it more of a hip hop reading. Schneider needed to develop more of his own identity.