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Review by Hanna McNulty.
As I walked up to the doors of the O2 Academy, a string of eager fans became visible encircling the arena and leading into the doors. Seconds after joining the back of the queue, new groups of screaming teens approached behind me, causing me to feel extremely out of place. I seemed to be the only person who had not been counting down the days, weeks and months for this moment.
With the admittedly limited knowledge I had of James Arthur, I had expected a humble man playing a plethora of ballads with meaningful lyrics and a strong acoustic backing. I must say, however, my assumptions failed me. Instead, the ideal I had been expecting was manifested in the popular Australian newcomer, Matt Gresham: the support for the night. The tone of Gresham’s work complemented the acoustic tones of the guitar perfectly, generating an impressive 30 minute warm-up performance.
9:01 struck and then suddenly the atmosphere changed. The stage blackened. The crowd silenced. iPhones were raised into the air. Then, with the backing of a single drum beat, a hooded figure appeared out of the blue mist, transforming the crowd into a clamorous mob: all shouting, screaming and clapping.
The gig began with the 29 year-old’s single ‘Back From The Edge’, the track for which his album is named. It told the story of his own redemption through music: from the young man suffering from depression and drug abuse to the man of success he is known as today. With the powerful lyrics and the impressive musical backing it was a strong start; one which triggered audience anticipation for the rest of the performance. In my opinion however, the performance unfortunately decayed from that moment onwards.
After thanking the fans and regurgitating a list of Geordie stereotypes, Arthur continued to perform a mixture of songs from the album. Though these songs were very well met by the majority of the fans, for me they lacked true meaning. The passion Arthur felt was clear: he at least was emotionally touched by each and every song he sang, but this passion didn’t reach out to me.
The apex of the performance came in his 2012 X-Factor hit, ‘Impossible’. At this point the whole audience joined in, shouting the lyrics onto the stage where he stood. The song was powerful and throughout there was a clear relationship between audience and performer. It was notable, however, that even though it was moving to see the audience participation, throughout the majority of the song Arthur didn’t really sing much.
Arthur continued with ‘Nobody Til Somebody Loves You’, ‘Recovery’ and a cover of Clean Bandit’s number one hit single, ‘Rockabye’: the song which had actually knocked him from number one only months prior. James ended the night with the song ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’: the most famous of those on his new album.
Ultimately, for me, the performance as a whole lacked substance. I did find many songs to be catchy or powerful but for much of the performance I felt almost spaced out on the cyclical melodies.