George Ezra provides an enjoyable show that will only get better with experience.
The beautiful Brixton Academy was a fitting venue to stage one of Britain’s most exciting emerging musical talents of the past few years. However, it wasn’t big enough to fit the thousands of fans left disappointed after missing out on tickets for a tour that entirely sold out in ten minutes. Streams of fans queued outside the venue filtering down several Brixton backstreets, eagerly anticipating hearing some popular soulful blues. George Ezra had toured festivals relentlessly last summer and supported Sam Smith in the US last year, but this night was all about him, and the backdrop embellishing the word ‘Ezra’ confirmed it. As 8:30pm neared, the sold-out Academy waited in anticipation to witness Ezra and that colossal voice.
Jacob Anderson, better known by his stage name Raleigh Ritchie, and even better known as his character from Game of Thrones, Grey Worm, was the warm up act. Evidently delighted to be supporting Ezra, Ritchie leapt around the stage to his hip-hop beats like an AA battery bunny after drinking a four pack of Red Bull. He is arguably a more talented musician and endurance jumper-up-and-downer than actor, and he is definitely someone to look out for on the hip-hop music scene. Though genre-wise not an obvious choice for a support act, Ritchie managed to get the crowd into some sort of dancing mood and ready for the main event.
Ezra swayed, rocked, bounced up and down and side-to-side like he was ballroom dancing with his guitar.
Tensions grew with the imminent arrival of Ezra as a black screen shielded the stage throughout the interval. This would fall to unveil George Ezra and his band as they simultaneously launched into the very popular and infectious ‘Cassy O’. Bar a minor smirk, Ezra looked relatively unfazed by the scale of the crowd, a packed out Brixton academy, as he confidently approached the microphone. As he raced through the song like an unstoppable freight train, what became apparent was his self-assured swagger. Ezra, as he would throughout the concert, swayed, rocked, bounced up and down and side-to-side like he was ballroom dancing with his guitar. It proved to be a strong start, one immediately involving sing-a-longs and dancing, and that would set the night off on the right foot. The next few songs contained the big singles ‘Blame it on Me’ and ‘Listen to the Man’ which inevitably went down well with the crowd. Playing these songs so early on just reflects how confident Ezra is in his back catalogue and album.
Between each song Ezra would take a swig of tea, presumably to numb his voice to those famous gravelly bass baritone levels reminiscent of Lead Belly or Barry White. After all, most conversations regarding George Ezra involve someone saying he doesn’t look like he should sound like that, which is true; he sounds like a 50 year old southern blues singer, not a skinny baby-faced 21 year old in a groovy shirt. In spite of this, the hysterical screaming of girls in the audience did bring his voice down an octave. Additionally there was not as much talk by Ezra during these breaks, only to point out the relevance of each song to his year travelling round Europe, which forms the premise of his album. It was difficult to tell if he was overwhelmed, humbled, shy, or uninterested. I should probably let him off due to the fact that he was so ill the Manchester gig the next day had to be cancelled. Ezra did, however, spare us the relentless, cringe-worthy thanks at every opportunity that many young artists feel is necessary, so I appreciated that.
Ezra’s big mistake was sending away his backing band, who looked like they were discarded members of Mumford and Sons, to perform three solo songs. Beginning with the unrecognisable and unimpressive ‘Over The Creek’, it sounded as though his normally reliable semi-acoustic guitar was out of tune. This was followed by a less than average cover of one of Ezra’s (and every singer songwriter that ever existed) idols Bob Dylan. ‘Girl From The North Country’ went lost on the many teenage fan girls in the audience. Fortunately the backing band re-emerged and blasted out Ezra’s jazziest number ‘Stand by Your Gun’, bringing the set – and the audience – back to life.
The Bristolian had far better luck with his next cover of Macy Gray’s ‘I Try’ that he had recorded for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge earlier that week. The nostalgia of this 90s/00s hit was ripe amongst audience members who thoroughly appreciated this number, and it looked like Ezra was enjoying himself by this point. It also reflected Ezra’s talent to make this classic song his own, smothering it with blues and his iconic low vocals.
He sounds like a 50 year old southern blues singer, not a skinny baby-faced 21 year old in a groovy shirt
‘Spectacular Rival’ would provide evidence of Ezra’s vocal range and talents as he reached depths that no man has ever sung at. It was this, I’m sure, that was to blame for the ice in my drink instantly melting. Beautiful ballad ‘Breakaway’ would prove to be the highlight of the night, a simplistic number that slowly built up to a big sing-a-long, as a full Brixton Academy bellowed ‘breakaway’ at the pleased 21 year old.
Ezra decided not to save ‘Budapest’, his biggest single for the encore, the most obvious choice and what most probably expected. I felt like this was a mistake as he possibly peaked too soon, as the crowd euphorically recited the words. It was evidence proving that this song, named after the capital city of Hungary, was one of 2014’s biggest singles. Unfortunately I noticed some ‘fans’ leaving after ‘Budapest’, before the encore. I guess they’d seen what they wanted, the one song they knew, and didn’t want to risk missing their trains home to witness a few more songs.
Instead he would finish with ‘Did You Hear the Rain?’, which is his most passionate song, and the only one that could pass as a rock number. The song opened with an incredible a capella section that built up for a minute and a half before unleashing into a rhythm that is difficult not to dance to. By the end of the song, Ezra’s guard and cool exterior was non-existent as he tore into a furious, roaring climax. If I had to nit-pick I would say that ‘Did You Hear the Rain?’ would make a fantastic opening number, immediately establishing a fiery mood for an evening of delight.
While overall it was generally an enjoyable and impressive gig, there is definite room for improvement. George will be keen to hear my suggestions for improvements; these include a set list shake up, greater crowd interaction and call and response style sing-a-longs, but this will come with experience. Ezra has had some year; his debut album ‘Wanted On Voyage’ reached number one and went triple platinum, he received four Brit Award nominations, and his current tour sold out in ten minutes. The most staggering thing about these achievements is that he is only 21 years old. He undoubtedly has a fantastic future ahead of him.