Justin Nozuka at the Garage
Justin Nozuka has been busy of late. After embarking on a US tour to begin the year, April has seen his signature soft blend of folk, soul and rock brought to European audiences, landing in Highbury as the UK leg gets into full swing. Since his one-off show at Omeara in October supporting his EP High Tide, the Canadian-American singer has released the follow-up Low Tide, ahead of his fourth studio album dropping in May. This London date at the Garage was about acquainting his fans with his latest dreamlike, nature-inspired soft rock direction without neglecting the familiar music that first propelled him to global recognition over ten years ago.
An extended version of 2007 track Down in a Cold Dirty Well opened the evening, accompanied by a surprising early instrumental rock break. This marked the breaking of the ice, aptly in line with the vocalist’s upcoming album – entitled Run to Waters. The ensemble eased into a set of opening songs running chronologically through their discography, leading to 2017’s All I Need – which received big cheers despite being a more recent release. This was a highlight, magnifying the chemistry and sheer talent of Nozuka’s three band members as each instrument had its time to shine. Moments like these came across as the most electric, adding endless layers of charisma and live energy to the tracks on record. Often, the frontman would begin with his back to the audience for a jam-packed heavy intro that kept them guessing. Other newer numbers included Reverie – a softer single that showcased the soul singer’s remarkably crystal clear voice and delicate falsetto – and Laury – an emotional break-up tune with the raw lyrics, “I love you but not like death do us part”.
Stripped back solo performances filled a significant chunk of the show, partly fueled by on-the-spot requests. An air of intimacy was formed as Nozuka’s fans were treated to acoustic versions of Mr Therapy Man and Be Back Soon. The musicians reappeared for riff-rich renditions of crowd favourites After Tonight and Heartless, but the encore was, unexpectedly, another solo stretch. There was audience collaboration for the spine-tingling Save Him – in which the New York-born vocalist harmonised over the chorus – and the finale was a track from the new album, Sail Away Mama.
Conversation was minimal, except for the performer being very British by discussing the weather whilst sharing thoughts about both the detour on his third album Ulysses and the direction of his forthcoming release. However, new numbers felt like a mere teaser and for all the evening’s crowd-pleasing nostalgia, it felt like a missed opportunity to convert original fans into Run to Waters enthusiasts and to give more unheard music the “Justin Nozuka and band” stellar live experience.
The singer-songwriter has always been recognised for his mature writing, but it’s clear Nozuka’s sound has further matured and is riding a new wave. It’s a promising sign of more to come.
Photo: Kristen Dania
For further information and future events visit Justin Nozuka’s website here.
Watch the video for Laury here: