John Newman at Shepherd’s Bush EmpireCultureMusicLive music
Tonight is sold out. Tomorrow is too. Is it due to a number one album and hit singles or does this northern soul aficionado have the live show to back it up? In a time where the charts are a sickening display of groups with no singer, using guest vocalists – a formulaic way for laptop clickers to sell and record companies to dry run “financial risks” – it is rare for an artist to eclipse this and go on to write/produce bigger songs while pulling off legitimate headline tours.
Anticipation mounts as projections flicker onto a curtain with the introduction of Tribute. The backing band swing into action as the curtain drops to reveal a crisp monochrome set, white lights and black and white outfits. It’s orchestrated in a way that there is danger of it being forced but luckily it is balanced by John Newman’s raspy voice and some impromptu James Brown/ James Chance foot shuffles. It’s clear that he is enjoying himself and this level of confidence live is impressive. However, this early, it is still dubious whether this is flair or raw soul power.
Feel the Love, Rudimental’s single, was the breakthrough. With the “stronger” hook, Newman still exercises his dance moves with much whooping and giggling from the girls. Cheating is held down with house music chords but this time a sweet horn section appears out of nowhere. It’s slick and professional, complete with backing singers and it might be the production, not the song, which grabs the attention. It is safe, fun, all round entertainment with the only risk coming from a slight slip from the singer as he climbs past the drum set…
Newman’s singing voice at times seems reminiscent of Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness and there is pain there when he says “Tribute is an album about the girl who fucked me up.” Technically his voice is solid so when he lets go it’s still note-perfect and sores when he pushes his soul influences. Newman needs to make sure he calls the shots and his “team” aren’t too close to making a good song mediocre.
The encore starts as a lowlight affair before falling into an anthem-like refrain of Love Me Again. With breakbeat flurries, half-time dubstep and podium dancers, it’s like being inside a modern West Side Story. There’s splits, running on the spot, even a half-attempted moonwalk. This sort of show is going to kill stateside. Hilariously a firework is mistimed for the drop, not that the audience noticed, because tonight was stellar.
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Watch the video for Love Me Again here: