Ten minutes behind schedule, James Bay explodes on to the stage ahead of a three night run at the Olympia. Huge blown up silhouettes dance behind a white curtain – alternating between fedora-clad Bay and his band mates.
Collide sets the tone for the evening – he is a self-taught singer songwriter, but he very much views himself as a bona fide rockstar. There is nothing twee or typical about his performance: everything is done with a macho flourish, despite the fact he bears an uncanny resemblance to Harry Styles.
Craving sees the solid percussion pedal everything along nicely, but despite it being the focus of the song, Bay remains the strongest figure on stage by a country mile – it’s impossible to take your eyes off him as he contorts and he squirms with every note.
What separates Bay from the Vance Joys and Ed Sheerans is undoubtedly his voice. Almost acidic, every verse and chorus is as sharp as the next, cutting clean as a surgeon’s knife through delicate strums. This, balanced with a sweet juggle of backing vocals, makes his rendition of When We Were On Fire, in particular, memorable.
A lot of Bay’s debut album is very obviously inspired by The Killers, particularly If You Ever Wanna Be In Love. Swapping for an acoustic guitar, he loses a lot of the strength he’s renowned for. The bravado remains though – all cheeky grins and winks for everyone to see.
His love for the venue is apparent, reminiscing about his slot supporting Kodaline two years ago. “It’s so wonderful and fancy! So many incredible acts have played here,” he looks incredulously around the venue, reflective for a moment.
Running sees piano chords spill over Bay’s vocals, drizzled with tambourines and string quivers. For whatever reason, he stops dead in the middle of the performance to let out a laugh. It’s at this point that he begins treading the line between tongue-in-cheek lad antics and mindless self-indulgence.
Too often, between songs, however, the purpose gets lost. Bay clearly takes a lot of inspiration from fellow guitar freaks John Mayer and Eric Clapton, but the transitions between songs go from passionate, genuine jams to sprawling, nonsensical wastes of time. His cover of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You goes on for close to 15 minutes. His love for the music can certainly be appreciated, but it tests the crowd hugely. At one point, someone cuts through the awkward silence of the crowd, shouting, “C’mon James, the train is waiting, do the big one now!” Bay remains unfazed, head-titled and doe-eyed, persevering through the track.
He manages to pull it back with Let It Go: a sparse, tortured performance of vocals and strings. The intro is slow, prolonged, with glistening chords, making knots of the crowds heart strings.
New single Scars gets a better reception too, with Bay admitting he debuted the song at the Kodaline gig, and that record execs weren’t keen on it. “Whatever. I like the fucking song,” he laughs.
Closing with Hold Back The River, he becomes vexed – a mad man possessed by his own instrument. It’s a triumphant finish, albeit one that shouldn’t have been delayed so much.
James Bay’s self-started attitude and his ability to turn the genre on its head is admirable. He is a good performer with commanding presence – unsurprising considering he’s a seasoned entertainer. An obviously inflated ego is his only problem here, leading to the spiralling solos and not a lot of regard for the people actually watching the show. A more conscious evaluation of his sets and performances might see fewer moments of vanity and more of the great integrity he has as an artist.