This James Bay article was written by Nairomi Alice Eriksson, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson
Having only released his debut album six months ago James Bay hasn’t got any problems attracting people to his shows. The not one, not two, but three sold out shows at the O2 Academy in Brixton speak for themselves; still the second night appears slightly colourless and dull. Perhaps James have had a rough night living it up like a Rolling Stone after Ronnie Wood all of a sudden popped up for a surprise appearance on Bay’s first Brixton night, or maybe the second night just fades in comparison to having a legend like Wood with you on stage. There is no special guest to bring up on stage tonight and Bay is having difficulties keeping the crowd’s attention throughout.
Yet oblivious of this, the crowd gives him a thunderous ovation when he steps out on stage with a smile that could make anyone weak in the knees. The song choices for the start are clever, ‘Collide’ and ‘Craving’ are two of the strongest expeditious tracks on ‘Chaos and the Calm’ (2015) but even they can’t take it all the way. Despite the popular £2 shots and plastic-cup pints at the bar half the audience acts more like they’ve had two glasses of pinot noir and are getting ready for bed.
Thankfully the familiar intro to ‘Let It Go’ finally turns the somewhat drowsy audience on, it also wakes up the inner social media junkies that seem to inhabit the entire crowd. Maybe nowadays an ocean of iPhones is what a thousand broken hearts looks like but it’s certainly not as powerful as tearfully hugging one another.
Bay doesn’t speak too much in between the songs, when he does he’s charming and humble, talking about what a “massive deal” this is, then quickly moves on to the next number. In fact, out of his debut album he only leaves out the two ending tracks, and apart from throwing around the songs in a different order there is a huge lack of experimentation. For good and bad, the gig sounds more or less like the album. We all know, if it’s not broken don’t fix it, but seriously, a bit of dusting or buying some fresh flowers before you have guests over is just polite isn’t it? You could’ve just opened Spotify, poured yourself a glass of wine and Google Image searched “James Bay’s cheekbones” (basically, a normal Thursday night), and avoided the hassle of an overcrowded, sweaty tube ride there, standing up for four hours and the hair flicking girl that’s somehow always there to spill your drink; because frankly James Bay is not worth it at the moment.
Admittedly, there are some hair-raising occasions. Although the first ‘Scars’- verse is ruined by people chatting away the chorus consumes everyone’s attention and the singing reaches beyond the enthusiastic mob right below the stage to create a hauntingly beautiful echo from every corner of the Brixton Academy. Plus the rock star moments during ‘Get Out While You Still Can’ shows that he’s actually very skilful both as a musician and performer. Whether Bay has discovered the whammy bar to be a good musical effect or just that it makes him look really, freaking cool could be argued but it doesn’t really matter here because the ending is impressively tight from the entire band.
At the end of the night he casually asks: “You guys are cool with a cover, right?” They are, and rather worryingly the cover, a Mariah Carey cover to be precise, is the high point of the night. ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ includes a captivating solo intro where James is bathing in a sharp beam of light, a massive sing-a-long, a lengthy instrumental and what seems to be a genuinely good time. It’s the only time we see him acting like an experienced artist doing what young musicians often lack: playing around, not taking things too seriously – and hopefully this is a taste of where James is heading.
At this time, if you strip him down (figuratively speaking – not like most people in the crowd undoubtedly wished to do all night), without his stylish exterior there’s a concern that the songs alone wouldn’t be strong enough to carry him. No one should undermine his talent as a musician and songwriter – you don’t go winning the Critics Choice Award at the Brits for nothing. He’s a charismatic young man that’s got a way with words; he’s not going anywhere but only time will tell if he’s actually a good-natured, proficient guitarist and singer, or if he’s just another idiot in a hat.
The last song choice shows as little imagination as the rest of the gig but you can’t really blame him there. ‘Hold Back The River’ sends Brixton into bliss and there he is: fedora in place; despite two hours of vigorous dancing, holding his signature 1966 red Epiphone like he was born with it in his hands.
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