Gig review: John Newman at the O2 Academy Leeds

John Newman
John Newman
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Conveniently stepping into the gap currently vacated by Plan B and CeeLo Green, and filling the need for a male counterpart to the likes of Adele and Emeli Sande, John Newman’s soulful, gospelly big beat sound has so far proved predictably irresistible.

Hailing from not too far up the road from Leeds in Settle, and most definitely a product of Yorkshire, it’s not surprising that all the tickets for his show at the O2 Academy Leeds were snapped up swiftly.

First support act James Bay, who looks like a young James Taylor and delivers acoustic guitar-based, singer-songwriter fare with a passion that at times verges on Michael Bolton-style histrionics, does his best to counter the general hubbub in the venue.

The middle act, Brooklyn-based singer Lolo, gets on better thanks to a full band set-up.

She’s a bundle of energy and works the crowd with her upbeat banter and curious Haka-esque dancing. The uptempo mix of soul and powerpop gets better as the set goes on, and by its conclusion has done its job of leaving me interested to check her out further.

John Newman opens his set with spooky projections onto drapes at the front of the stage as the roll call of inspiring figures that opens the title track from his hit debut Tribute filters in.

As the band kick in, the drapes drop to reveal a neat stage design that borrows design cues from the art deco glamour of his album sleeve, and includes an economy version of that staple of any glitzy stage show - a staircase - although in this instance it’s just a mere three steps, but they’re enough to allow Newman to dash up and throw a messianic pose, back to the audience, during Try.

His six-piece band, including two backing singers there to bring the gospelly vibes that litter his album, are all smartly turned out in monochrome, and tackle the material with heads-down professionalism.

If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that the musicians seem almost constrained by the material, unable to break out of the formula of pounding piano, pounding bass and pounding drums.

Such a sustained level of gusto means that, just like on the album, songs lose some of their individuality.

It’s only during the track Day One that the guitarist gets a hint of a solo.

Still, it’s early days and hopefully a looser and more organic feel is something that will come with time.

As a show by a young fella just starting out on what will hopefully be a long and exciting career, it was good stuff. As he finishes his encore with a mighty one-two of Not Giving In and Love Me Again, the crowd on their feet and singing along, you can’t help but wish him all the best.

Gig date: February 4 2014

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