Plenary Hall | 10 June 2014
Some discerning music fans would say going to a James Blunt concert is akin to social suicide. It’s hard to pinpoint where the ‘dag factor’ attached to Blunt comes from – perhaps the overkill radio play of his seminal hit ‘You’re Beautiful’ turns people off, or maybe his saccharine, whiney ballads are the culprits.
Before the daggy Brit himself hits the stage, mention must be made of the fantastic Busby Marou as support. Their tight and soulful sound is full of country-boy charm – these lads from Rockhampton are certainly accomplished musicians. An unlikely choice of cover sees them pay homage to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, a song recorded for Triple J’s Like A Version, which they dedicate to “all the girls in Melbourne – and James Blunt sure pulls a lotta girls to his concerts.”
Richard Strauss’ powerful ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30’ (more commonly known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) booms out through the hall as darkness engulfs the stage, an effective show-starter. After the crashing drums and soaring horns ascend to their final triumphant peak, a spotlight highlights the diminutive Blunt at a piano as he begins playing the plaintive melody of ‘Face The Sun’, the first track from his latest album Moon Landing – a classic melancholy Blunt tune to kick off.
His voice is strong and decidedly less whiney than it comes across on his recordings, which is a welcome surprise. This man has some serious pipes.
The four-piece band accompanying Blunt are wearing astronaut costumes, as is the man himself as he fully utilises the stage. He’s a born entertainer; it’s amazing that this man served in the Army for six years before becoming this fascinating creature on stage tonight.
His songs are as good, if not better than popular Coldplay anthems, and his charisma is undeniable. His comedic interludes play out as if he is an established comedian, especially when telling the crowd in their formal seats, “You all look like you’re out at the cinema, good luck to you!” or when he belittles New Zealanders: “I practiced my song ‘Satellites’ on the Kiwis, because they don’t matter.”
Old favourites ‘Goodbye My Lover’ and ‘You’re Beautiful’ incite crowd sing-alongs, the latter song being delivered by Blunt with a wry smile, as if he’s fully aware of the lasting vitriol that has followed this worldwide hit, and doesn’t care one bit.
He’s got cliché gig moves – enticing the crowd to clap along, telling them when to sit and stand (sit in the slow songs, stand in the fast) and most excitingly, jumping off stage and running around the entire lower level like a little pocket rocket, high-fiving fans.
At one point, two women leave their seats to stand at the front of the stage and stare adoringly up at Blunt – which opens the floodgates for more to get up and join them, blocking the view of the high-paying front row. Some astute crowd control by Blunt sees the naughty fans at the front told to sit down, and they obey like well-trained puppies.
It’s odd that this unlikely star has touched so many, but he has. Even the most reluctant looking dragged-along boyfriends are tapping their toes by the time Blunt reemerges for the encore yelling “It’s called a fucking costume change!” dressed in a jet fighter outfit complete with helmet. Playing ‘Bonfire Heart’ cements his musical prowess, as it is an instant classic – it’s a seriously catchy, brilliant pop song.
The entire show is polished and entertaining, with lights and projector images giving great extra energy to the songs. James Blunt is an engaging, talented musician who doesn’t deserve the dag factor attached to him, but his fans here tonight don’t even see it – they care about James Blunt, they care a lot.