Rhys Lewis warms hearts with soulful vocals at EartH
Following a US tour supporting Julia Michaels, Rhys Lewis continues on his biggest headline tour to date with crowds of his own adoring fans at Hackney’s EartH. It’s a quirky venue and modest set-up, with the audience on staggered stairs almost set up like a lecture hall, about to gain an education in heartbreak. The music industry is having a moment of stripped-back ballads, and Lewis shows he’s a serious contender in the style ahead of his debut record release some time next year.
Recent unashamedly keen fans include the producers of this year’s Love Island, and it’s clear why: Lewis’s songs are relatable and journey through the highs and lows (mostly lows) of relationships. It’s a perfect match. Break-up soundtracks Hold Onto Happiness and End Like This introduce the set; there may be a common thread of sadness in the lyrics, but it somehow manages not to drag the mood down. A stunning new Christmas track, This Time of Year, is later unveiled to a hushed audience – it’s aptly timed and its themes of loss, plus no-frills performance, provide one of the most poignant, powerful moments of the evening.
There are some chirpier, more upbeat offerings, such as future album track Under the Sun and bluesy Some Days, demonstrating the singer-songwriter’s versatility. However, this is an artist who has so far made his name through heartfelt ballads, and they comfortably form the highlights of the show. No Right to Love You – arguably one of his best-known – is performed with soaring vocals and a guest string quartet. The deeply personal Reason to Hate You (a setlist addition we owe to Julia Michaels, we’re told) is a solo with an electric guitar and a whole lot of soul, accentuating the rockier edge to Lewis’s tone as he effortlessly flits between falsetto. If “crooner” were still a commonly-used term, there could not be a more apt term for it.
By the time Better Than Today and the “only happy song” Things You Can’t Change come around, there’s a silent call for even more material – one that will surely be answered soon. It’s not a perfect run and Lewis doesn’t immediately look at ease, but there’s something undeniably special about the evening. With a bonus house gospel choir and string quartet joining the keys and drums, it’s bound to be a night to remember for the singer-songwriter and, judging from the buzz of crowds exiting the EartH auditorium, the feeling is mutual.
Photos: Nick Bennett
For further information and future events visit Rhys Lewis’s website here.
Watch the video for This Time of Year here: