2nd June | Colston Hall
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
There is an ‘Intro’ on James Bay’s second album, Electric Light, which sounds like an accidental voicemail of a couple trying resolve their issues. It’s a brief snippet, but it includes a variation of the classic, “It’s not you it’s me,” break-up line. Live, however, this ‘Intro’ appears as a mini-movie on the screen at the back of the stage, featuring a couple disconnecting outside a bar, with James Bay merely an extra, hovering in the background. It’s all very Hollywood, but it adds a dimension of observation, rather than autobiography to the evening.
Bay walks onto the stage, shortly after, with guitar in hand, wearing black skinny jeans and a leather jacket; his hair is slicked back like a Teddy Boy. He opens with ‘Wasted on Each Other,’ a strong guitar-heavy track which then segues into ‘Pink Lemonade,’ arguably one of his best from Electric Light. It sounds great in this auditorium backed by two vocalists, two guitarists and a drummer.
Bay swaps out his guitar between every song, and his musical talents are evidently quite special. Although his band lend weight to his Electric Light sound, when he plays ‘If You Ever Want to Be in Love’ acoustically, he sounds incredible. In contrast to what we’ve heard so far, this song is stripped back, uncomplicated and a reminder of Bay’s incredible vocals.
Following this, he moves into ‘Wild Love,’ the lead track from Electric Light. This song is a showcase of the risk he took (by veering in the opposite direction from the blues-pop sound of Chaos and the Calm) paying off. His voice is powerful, counter-balancing ‘Wild Love’ perfectly, mixing the authentic and the experimental – an achievement of the sound he set out to make with his latest album.
His gyrating throughout the evening brings to mind Elvis Presley. This resemblance peaks subtly as he strums, ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ between ‘Scars’ and ‘Us.’ This subtle sample electrifies the room, in a way that’s tender and nuanced.
Bay fits in a costume change before playing ‘Let it Go,’ which is a real crowd-pleaser. Then he builds up momentum for ‘Best Fake Smile’ in which he repeats the opening lyric relentlessly. He is evidently adamant that the audience should be louder, and they build to a crescendo as he plays out the song and then runs off the stage.
He returns for an encore with yet another guitar in hand. At this point, he pauses to speak with everyone. With a heartfelt speech, he thanks his fans for supporting his first album, as its incredible success allowed him to make Electric Light.
He has saved the best till last: ‘Hold back The River,’ in all its glory, closes the set. This song is emphatically his best work, and it pounds through the room. The screen behind him is now projecting a mirror image of the audience, who are waving their arms in the air. At the very end, Bay holds his fist to his chest, kisses his hand and waves out into the crowd before leaving the stage.