Live Review / James Morrison @ Symphony Hall (14.03.16)

On his latest tour, James Morrison descended on a slightly more unusual venue: Birmingham’s gorgeous Symphony Hall. Considering how on previous occasions, the singer-songwriter has sold out academies and arenas across the country, it was a surprise decision, but one that worked surprisingly well.

Support came in the form of up-and-coming acoustic singer Kelvin Jones, fresh from busking the UK streets with his debut album, Stop The Moment. His set up was reminiscent of Ed Sheeran and the like, headlining the Symphony Hall stage with just his guitar and a loop pedal. Despite a slightly awkward stage presence – the hall is a daunting place to set foot in, let alone perform in at such a young age – his witty banter and anecdotes of previous shows about drinking too much water and leaving his flies undone made his performance much more endearing. His self-deprecating nature in turn helped us as the audience to appreciate his music, telling the story of how the girl who is subject of popular song ‘Call You Home’ was in the crowd of his show two weeks previously: “and I said [the song was about] ‘a special someone’.. just as she turned to grab a beer.” Being the support, his set was obviously short, however this allowed him to display several (of the best) facets of himself as an artist, with a mash-up cover of The Weeknd’s ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘Shine’ by Years and Years going down a storm, despite the slightly older audience. Ending his time with us in Birmingham with electric guitar in hand and a cheeky grin on his face, we were ready for more.

Jumping on stage, James Morrison and his band launched into debut album opener ‘Under The Influence’, with a relentless energy being evident from the start. The setlist was abound with gems from all four of Morrison’s albums, commanding the stage like a pro. The change in venue was not lost on him, exclaiming between tracks that it was “very posh in here”. This did not alter his performance style in any way, complete with gyrating hips and brazen smile throughout each and every inclusion. He alluded to his dance moves in particular, admitting that it took him a while “to feel comfortable on stage” but only displayed further his confidence as an established artist. The wonderful thing about an artist like Morrison is his character: he is a man full of charm, prefacing many of his songs with stories and anecdotes that were hard not to laugh at and relate to, no matter what your age. He explained how ‘Something Right’ was his way of “finding confidence as a person by having a kid” while he told us in detail how fan favourite ‘Wonderful World’ from 2006’s Undiscovered is about a deaf guy who hugged him on a bus, and decided to “[try] to write him a song… well, he’s not gonna hear it”. If there was one thing that had the crowd in a fit of giggles, it was his story of ‘Slave to the Music’, inspired by a “What would Michael Jackson do?” moment whilst stoned and drunk in an American hotel room. His Michael Jackson impression was interesting to say the least, but the song was an exhibition of the more soulful, funky side of James Morrison as an artist. However, as he said so himself, “it sounds fuck all like MJ”.

The night was filled with a sense of nostalgia and strong sentiment, Morrison evoking this through compelling performances of both ‘The Letter’ and a stripped back and emotionally stirring version of ‘If You Don’t Wanna Love Me’, which I highly doubt left a single dry eye in the entire hall. The place came alive during ‘Broken Strings’, a sea of voices lifting the room and accompanying Morrison to make up for the fact that Nelly Furtado wasn’t there to sing on the duet. However, Morrison has such a wonderful range that this becoming a solo song only further accentuated its raw emotional balladry. Other highlights included his latest single, ‘I Need You Tonight’ coupled with the fabulous ‘Call The Police’, the final two songs before launching into his encore. This obviously included his most-loved track, ‘You Give Me Something’ and latest album track ‘Higher Than Here’ – ending on this titular album track finished the night on a humble, gospel-infused note, making it feel less like a concert and more like a celebration with friends. It’s obvious that James Morrison has still got something, and I can’t wait for him to tour it again soon.

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[Originally written for Radsound]

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