Standing in a mile long queue in the rain, it’s hard to get excited about watching Brit winner / ex-soldier James Blunt. He’s not the kind of artist that’s likely to provide many surprises live, you can kind of guess what format the gig will take before it’s even begun. But wait, that’s a bit harsh, he might surprise you, you cynical soul!
Alas no, when Jason Mraz takes to the stage, all obvious predictions for this evening become a horrid reality. JM is an American Blunt – imagine a Backstreet Boy with a guitar and you are close. His ability to hit inaudibly high, ultrasonic notes gets a round of applause, and attracts a group of confused bats to the Academy. In truth, Mraz almost becomes bearable, nay, enjoyable – gentle acoustic guitars, soothing singing; it’s enough to send this reviewer to sleep. Unfortunately though, possibly inevitably, out come the bongos and a variety of pseudo-Bohemian instruments, and the calm is destroyed by a feel-good pop/rock nightmare that prompts the first of many clapalongs of the night. In songs such as ‘Did You Get My Message’, or ‘Mr. Curiosity’, Mr. A-Z adopts a ridiculous choir boy tone that could be a joke, could be his real voice. Either way, as painful as it is, if JM’s task is to ready the crowd for a good Blunting, his work is done.
Tonight’s crowd is made up of a predictable demographic; couples enjoying a late Valentine’s Day celebration; mothers with a gaggle of excitable pre-teen children; 30 something women worried that the kids are playing up for the babysitter. But man woman or child, there is a sense of excited anticipation in the air as the lights fall. Blunt walks out to The Specials ‘Ghost Town’ played at a devastatingly high volume, possibly a reference to tonight’s once riot stricken Brixton venue, or the fact that JB has touted this as his ‘homecoming’ (despite being from Wiltshire). ‘Too much fighting on the dance floor!’ - a less than accurate statement tonight, as the onslaught of soft rock/pop begins.
Blunt knows how to work his audience, wielding his mighty acoustic axe like a pro, he causes swoon after swoon as he waves to the crowd. Single, ‘High’ prompts rapturous applause as Blunt’s unmistakable nasal tone echoes around the Academy. But as excited as tonight’s crowd become, there is no escaping the mind-numbing blandness of much of the set. Songs such as ‘Tears and Rain’ sum up the evening, quite literally, the dirge created by Blunt resonating around the Academy like a large dose of sleeping gas.
The night becomes more distressing when James bangs out a miserable rendition of ‘No Bravery’, played in front of a large projection of shallow graves, soldiers in conflict, and unhappy children. These images seem (at the risk of sounding coldhearted) completely unnecessary and bleak, and really don’t aid Blunt’s performance in any way. Worse still, JB plays an awful cover of the Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind’. It’s criminally bad and totally lost on half of the audience who look blankly at each other thinking, ‘this wasn’t on the album was it?’ Dense bastards.
The highlight of the evening is a relatively enjoyable rendition of ‘Goodbye My Lover’. As he takes to the keys, Jimmy jokes, “It’s miserable outside, lets make it a little more miserable in here’” You’re not kidding James, you can practically smell the tears in the room as many of the audience mysteriously get “something in their eye”. And the moment everyone was waiting for – no, not the tube home, but number 1 hit, life-sappingly boring, ‘You’re Beautiful’ that has the crowd in the aisles, singing their hearts out. Brilliantly, tonight’s audience do their best not only to sing along, but imitate Blunt’s whingy voice, which makes for quite the amusing close to proceedings.
In all, not the most rock ‘n’ roll of nights, totally forgettable in fact.