“This song pretty much sums up my career,” Craig David tells a mostly-full First Direct Arena in as he introduces his slick classic cut Rise & Fall. “One minute, I was high, the next I was at rock bottom. To be able to play to you all tonight is unbelievable.”
Indeed, the Southampton singer’s resurrection as a chart force is something of wonder. Once consigned to history as a grotesque caricature on Bo’ Selecta!, his rehabilitation as a successful DJ has served as a springboard for his return to pop’s forefront. In Leeds, he delivers a show of two halves that plays up both of his separate musical identities; with crowd-pleasing, if occasionally laborious results.
Dressed in all-white, and cloaked in dry ice, David is in exuberant form, opening with the pulsating EDM of Ain’t Giving Up and the sexy softness of What’s Your Flava? Backed by a lithe five-piece outfit and with two backing singers, he delivers a celebratory set of classic garage that cements his newly-minted reputation as the proto-player of street-smart dance.
From the pool-party-chillwave of Fill Me In to the beach-ready blast of Nothing Like This, via the tropical house of Change My Love, his new material sounds positively radiant – and when matched with his older, smoother R&B hits, like Walking Away and the flamenco-licked 7 Days, he has his audience captured in the throes of screaming reverence.
For the second part however, David switches to the decks as he delivers a mix under his DJ moniker TS5. A combination of his own hits, including Re-Rewind and Woman Trouble, and various other clubland bangers, it is an energetic performance, respite with his own luxurious tenor layered over the top of Drake’s One Dance and House of Pain’s Jump Around. It nearly matches the rest of his show in length though; by the time he is gleefully cutting up his own hits into remixes, 40 minutes into his set, tedium is setting in under the pulsating lights.
A cameo from Big Narstie on featured comeback single When the Bassline Drops does little to alleviate the monotony – and it requires a boisterous combo of One More Time and 19 to finish the night on a high.
Craig David’s comeback is one richly deserved after years in the wilderness – but his prowess as a performer rather than disc jockey that will carry him forward on this wave of goodwill.