Sunday, 27 November 2016

Tom Odell

No, Tom Odell is not a normal part of my relatively catholic music taste. But my mate James wanted to see him as a birthday treat (his birthday not Tom's!) and I like gigs, so was no hardship to join him. Added to which Brixton Academy is one of my favourite venues, so after dinner at a bar round the corner we headed into the venue to catch the end of the first support. Who to my surprise turned out to be Mike Maltese again, the same support I had seen at the Tom Chaplin gig the week before. I guess you do a blitz of support spots to try to get a little bit of traction from each.

Main support came from the Rag 'n' Bone Man, an act I had never heard of before. And a strange act - at least in the sense that you wouldn't pick to market him as a pop act. Massive bloke with tattoos - you feel he would be more suited to being an inmate in an American jail. And the sound is also very American. But the voice was close to sublime. very characterful. So an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. Not exactly my type of music, but certainly something I appreciated. Not sure quite how to describe his stuff - a cross between Blues and hip hop maybe?

And so onto Tom Odell. I have to explain my ambivalence towards this guy. I do also have to say that I did quite enjoy this gig, and that his work here was presented to its very best. But that is also sort of damning with faint praise, because my problem ultimately is that this is a collection of ok ballads. Ballads which were souped up and turbo-charged as much as they could be, but fundamentally all could have been played quietly in a piano bar late night. Instead they were belted out with a big band and whenever possible Tom launched himself out of his piano seat and up towards the audience or even on top of his piano. He really gave it his all.

To his credit also he has a good strong voice. Very strong even. But just not the character of the Rag 'n' Bone Man. Nor even the power of his black female backing singer who in a "voice off" would win. She was fantastic.

The light show was impressive too, with numerous occasions where he was just back-lit or spotlighted - see photos below. Very effective.

One also has to say he is a very good looking boy, accounting for a pretty strong, although far from exclusively, female audience. With the occasional shriek of "I love you Tom" which must have been quite distracting for him as he was about to start another quieter ballad. I did also rather admire the way however hot he must have been when bouncing around the stage under the lights for over an hour he never removed his jacket. I can totally see why he has become a successful solo artist and admire his undoubted talent. But not enough for me to want to buy an album.

Tom Chaplin

Immediately upon my return from New England I had a gig at the Islington Assembly Rooms to attend. On my own this time - Tom is probably an acquired taste. This was his first solo tour showcasing his first solo album, Waves. The thing that surprised me most about it is how similar it is to Keane. I should say that was a nice surprise.

I did wonder whether there would be a support act, but there was, a perfectly suitable accompaniment to Tom in terms of pace - singer songwriter called Mike Maltese. Quite happily listened to his set.

Waves is actually a very good album. And unusually it has a theme - Tom's descent into drug abuse induced depression, and his subsequent appearance at the other side of the tunnel. He talked quite openly about it during the gig. All very life-affirming stuff. We all like to hear the story of fall followed by redemption. Only catch for me is that I had felt I had heard it all before when he played Alexandra Palace a few years ago with Keane. Just hope for his sake that this time he really has sorted his life out.

I do really wonder at these folk. When you are talented and successful, why do you go through these traumas? I know lots of people do, but it still baffles me, and in a peculiar way annoys me. When I see people with far more going for them than  me it annoys me seeing them waste it. I know that it it is a psychological thing and not all that simple, and some folk have addicted personalities, but it all seems logically such a waste. I can't help just thinking what have you got top be miserable about? So Tom has been successful, is very talented and despite evidently some years of drug abuse looks ridiculously well on it. He has that cherubic visage that doesn't go with a supposed drug-addled life. Surely he should look drawn and wasted rather than ridiculously boyish for a man in his late thirties? Is there no justice in life?

This was a tour ahead of a bigger tour next year. I think he wanted to see how it went in front of audiences who are devoted fans before being unleashed on a wider public. It was a very enjoyable show, even though he only played two old Keane songs, Sovereign Light Cafe towards the end of the main part of his set, and Somewhere Only We Know in the encore. I say this because everyone wants to hear the old stuff, but he did say he didn't want to be a Keane tribute act, even though uniquely qualified for the role!

The Islington Assembly Rooms is a very small venue. Its disabled section was basically just a little roped off segment to my right with a few chairs set out in it. The bit that made my night was seeing a little old lady, who must have been 90 if a day, hunched over and barely able to walk, being helped to the front rail, being "put" onto it and singing and clapping along to Somewhere Only We Know. Now that was quite life-affirming.


The encore included Tom's return in a cloak as a nod to Halloween.