by Colin Roedel
English singer-songwriter James Bay performed in Royal Oak (or as he let slip a few times, “Detroit”) for his Electric Light Tour this past Monday. If you’re unfamiliar with Bay, you might recognize a few of his songs playing at your local department store. His hit “Hold Back the River” gained popularity back in 2015 and continues to be the one song everyone is most familiar with.
I wish I could say this is a totally unbiased concert review, but then I would be lying. Anyone who knows me understands that James Bay is perhaps my favorite artist. His debut album Chaos and the Calm is, by far, my favorite record of all-time. I’m still upset it was robbed of a Grammy. I even own Chaos and the Calm on vinyl and have the romantic notion that one day, 20 years from now, my child will find it tucked away in the attic, blow off the dust, and experience all it has to offer.
However, his latest album, Electric Light, was a bit of a disappointment because it didn’t seem to quite understand what it wanted to be. All the singer songwriter elements seemed to take a back burner, replacing the bluesy appeal with the more pop style that’s purpose appeared to be to break into the mainstream. Even his personal style did a 180, as he ditched the long hair and signature black hat. The audacious change in music and personal style turned me off at first, but as artists change and grow, so does their artistic technique.
I’ve seen James Bay three times previously and I have to admit, sadly, this was my least favorite show of them all. Not that it was bad, but I didn’t leave blown away as I have in the past. Considering this is my favorite artist of all-time, I should have left feeling like I could run through a wall, but I didn’t.
The show seemed to lack the passion I have seen previously in his live shows. It seemed like just another show, and the songs were just motions the performance had to go through. The strong sense of fatigue was something the crowd seemed to sense as well, as only the spectators closest to the stage were singing and dancing.
Of the 13 songs he played for the set, only five were from the new album, which was a bit surprising. We did get to hear “Wanderlust” or “Just for Tonight” two of my favorites, which was disappointing.
I still love James Bay, and think he’s one of the most unique artists of the past five years. But, I can’t help but feel he abandoned all that set him apart from the others. Regardless, I still hope he continues to put out music that I, and many others, can enjoy.