The queue stretched far around the corner from the doors of the HMV Institute half an hour before they opened. A sign of the great anticipation of what was to come, as Dublin’s band of 2013 came into town. This was a crowd of people out to love every minute of what was about to happen.
As James Bay took to the stage, acoustic in hand, he was greeted with a sea of faces stretching to the back of the room. He already had a head start as the majority of the audience were willing to give him every opportunity to exceed their expectations. A feat that he didn’t fall short of. As soon as he opened with an attention grabbing, upbeat, goose-bump-inducing rock song worthy of the adulation he received from the room, he knew that it was going to be a great show, and so did we. His momentum kept growing with the next, and by the time he had finished his third song, the best in my opinion, the crowd were completely sold. A mix of moderate and slow songs all laced with his strong, powerful vocals followed. Some of which would feel right at home with a band behind them and it had me wondering if he was once a part of one. Regardless of this he carried his first show in Birmingham to the end with appreciation which I think even surpassed his expectations. I’m pretty sure he would need to replenish his Debut EP stock after tonight. Available on itunes for a pittance, you couldn’t find a better deal for a fresh singer/songwriter like James Bay.
The stage looked like the best jumble sale ever, guitars and cases strewn between keyboards and 2 sets of drums. It looked like a haphazard mess somehow helping with the natural aesthetic of the room and the tone of the evening. However the act to follow couldn’t have been more opposite. Hudson Taylor greeted us with a nice introduction of some acoustic finger picking and polished vocals which burst into the full band sparking the crowd to move for the first time. Tight, well re-fined pop numbers were the order of the day and everyone loved it. But these were pop songs well rooted in Irish folk and the majority of which had people singing the choruses by the end. “Care” and “Second Best” were among the highlights and more than enough to entice the crowd to come and see them again in three weeks when they return to Birmingham.
They made good use of the stage, swapping guitars for tambourines, keys for guitars and the two main vocalists, two brothers, occasionally sharing their mics which kept up the energy. This band, also hailing from Dublin, are well rehearsed and well presented in all respects. Their performance incorporated great musicianship, well written harmonies and songs that would put any audience into a good mood. Another great part of the warm up for the main act, Kodaline. These, along with James Bay, will only help make this a great tour for all involved.
With the stage cleaned up, looking streamlined and atmospheric, Kodaline looked right at home. They came on with a confidence and professionalism that told everyone that this could only go one way. Armed with amps from Blackstar and Vox, like their sound, they are a great mix of the old and the new. The audience lapped up “After the Fall” which got things off to a great start. The visual set up of two keyboards parallel, one on the left for Mark Prendergast, and another in the middle for Steve Garrigan, looked slick and the performance was reflected as they hit the crowd with a great beginning. They created a fantastic noise as the two guitars worked together with the bass and drums locking in well. With vocals from the four of them on top, the room struggled to contain it all. This wasn’t to say that there weren’t any problems with the sound. A screech of feedback or two were heard during their time on stage and sometimes the overall tone was muddy and lacking the shine that Hudson Taylor had.
The grey and black look the band have adopted tonight complemented the minimalist stage setup and ambient lighting, however as they moved into “Brand New Day” the room seemed to fill with colour as this was the most accomplished sound of the evening so far and was met with the best reaction as the crowd seemed to be waiting for it. The same could be said for “Love Like This” and “One Day” as at these moments when their biggest songs were let loose they really came into their own. Especially in the latter as they gave space for the audience to get involved and the sound of the whole room singing along, a sound leaning towards the amount of young girls in high voice, created a great moment. This seemed to really engage the audience and find their collective voice as “High Hopes” took them even further and made them even louder. This is clearly a set designed to build to a crescendo. The four-piece decided to end on a song that took me by surprise. “All Comes Down”, was never in my opinion the strongest of the album but the way it translates live made for a really powerful end to a great set.
Garrigan’s emotion was evident here as he gave the vocals and the keys everything he had. This really made the noise reach a peak with everyone beckoning the band back on stage. This didn’t happen. Shouts and screams came from behind me as the band appeared above the sound desk at the back of the room. Carrying just one acoustic between them, the four of them called for silence in the room. A stark contrast to the noise that preceded it. This took some time as the audience at the back were clearly pleased to see them up close. With the silence finally achieved they sang “Bring It On Home” with no mics and only to the rhythm of the crowd’s clicking fingers. This was another great moment as the crowd joined in with the pitch perfect four part harmonies. They returned to the stage to complete the night with “The Answer” and their most celebrated track, “All I Want”. An emotional and fitting end to the first night of what could be a great tour.
Review by David Ballard
Photos by Katja Ogrin