English singer-songwriter-turned-rocker James Bay began his show in Cork’s Marquee like any true rock star would; loud, late, electric guitar in hand.  Following the first few songs, however, the appeal quickly began to wane.

Bay was one of the most anticipated acts among young people when the schedule for the Marquee was announced and it showed by the largely teenage attendance. The loud, shrill cheer that met the support act Lyra, was a testament to the audiences mean age. Surrounded by flowers and her keyboard player, she sang love songs in a similar vein to those of Florence Welsh or Adele, showcasing her dextrous vocal range.

Lyra shone with confidence chatting and joking between every song. The lack of a band really highlighted her vocal prowess. Her version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You and her latest single Emerald, which is currently soundtracking Guinness’ latest advertising campaign, were both standout moments in a mesmerizing set from the Cork native.

James Bay began his set with one of his biggest hits to date Wasted On Each Other. Straddling an electric guitar, Bay was clearly channelling his inner Elvis, with his jet black hair slicked back. Bay stormed through the opening songs, including Pink Lemonade and Craving with aplomb, but by the fifth song the set seemed to slump from its high-octane beginnings to a slow meander as Bay slowly fell into auto-pilot.

It was a tight set, but sometimes a well defined tour set list can take the spontaneity and excitement of playing live away from the band, and no matter how proficient the motions a band are going through are it doesn’t take long for the audience to sense the lack of magic on stage and that seems to be with happened on this occasion. Bay was little help, rooted to his mic stand, rarely moving beyond a 50 cm radius of it, even during his many guitar solos.

As the set continued, it was clear that attendees were beginning to get a little restless as phones which had previously been taking photos of the show were now being used to scroll through Twitter and Facebook. Bay’s newer material was met with a subdued response and it wasn’t until the final quarter of the show that Bay was able to wrangle the audience’s attention away from their smartphones.

The last 15 minutes, however, were almost worth the wait. Beginning with Bay’s debut single, Let It Go, one of the undoubted highlights of the night. Bay cranked up the excitement levels bar-by-bar in a long intro to Best Fake Smile. The production value on this song alone, in terms of both lighting and performance, proves that Bay can be a real entertainer when he wants to be. This was hammered home further by a tremendous cover of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, which was delivered with more gusto than the majority of Bay’s own material.

Hold Back The River showcased that Bay has all the attributes to become the rock star that he set out to be. Unfortunately, by this stage, a large portion of the audience had already decided to call it an evening. The highs could not cover the inescapable lows.  

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