There’s no stopping George Ezra as the nicest man in pop plays his second Arena date in Leeds in front of thousands of Pretty Shining People.
Review and Photos by John Hayhurst
It is hard to believe that only 5 years ago on a wet and windy February night in York I witnessed a young guy with a very deep voice and two guitars, play to a small venue crowd, his performance that night was nothing less than stellar and although he hadn’t even released his 2ndEP at the time, you could tell there was so much more to come from George Ezra. The venue tonight is the biggest indoor venue in the area, he sold it out very quickly, and could have added a second night due to the popular demand of this still young and apparently nicest man in pop right now.
Ezra has 2 Number One albums and a selection of earworms that have been infesting in ears all over the UK for the last 2 years, ‘Shotgun’ is probably the biggest song of last year, and he even managed to score a Brit in the recent awards in 2019. This rapid rise to fame has left those other male singer-songwriters like Hozier, James Bay and Tom Odell firmly in the shadows and there is probably only Ed Sheeran in his sights, but to quote a football premiership analogy, Ezra has an album in hand on Sheeran and who knows what the next one will contain. The latest record ‘Staying at Tamara’s’ went straight in to the top spot after shifting 63,000 units in its first week and became the fasting selling album in 2018, it is still in the Top 5 fifty weeks later.
Tonight, as the intro winds down, the whole band file out and already the stage is filled with some quality musicianship and friends that George has picked up along the way. Some additional brass players are at the back and traditional guitar, bass, drums and keys all in place. He does a Michael McIntyre type skip on to the stage from the left and raises both arms in the air with a triumphant salute to the faithful crowd that have sold out this arena. Picks up a guitar and launches into ‘Don’t Matter Now’ which is an immediate party boost effect to the Friday night. He has a circular carpet/rug at his feet, and whilst in the main he doesn’t move too much further away from the mic, it doesn’t really matter as most of the crowd are in their seats singing and waving their arms around.
‘Get Away’ is the next carnival sing-a-long, the latest album is chock full of smiley tunes and these Yorkshire girls and boys know them all so well. So, after an up-tempo start we need to slow it down a little for ‘Barcelona’, the sound quality in this venue means you can hear every guitar strum and vocal perfectly. Some deft lighting effects as the backdrop of 3 windows to the world turn into stained glass and then into beach landscapes, it’s a beautiful diversion and later complimented by some clever Chinese lanterns that rise and fall in front of the stage.
Throughout the set each track is introduced by George with his friendly, warm charm, the likeability factor is set at maximum, he’s everyone’s friend and we all love him. There is this permanent smile on his face (wouldn’t you with 2 number one albums under your belt, a Brit Award and selling out Arenas at 25 years old) and he tells stories of staying in hostels and Airbnb houses as he trekked around Europe writing this last record. This lone approach seems to work for him and the product of that process is a collection of happy sing song tunes with a big helping of sugar and spice, no salt or vinegar here. You are not going to get introspective morose political commentary, in fact it is more “I don’t think about that stuff, let’s try to stick together and enjoy life”, ‘Pretty Shining People’ is a classic example.
‘Listen to the Man’ is equally infectious and surprisingly he is still playing the much darker ‘Did You Hear the Rain’ one that sent a few chills down the spine back in February 2013. George explains that the next song he had the melody worked out in the middle of the night after feeling ill on the tour bus, he quickly recorded it by voice into his phone, and then found the recording several months later. It became ‘Paradise’ which is the fastest song in his arsenal and probably about as rock as George Ezra can ever be.
After the rock we get a few of the slower tracks like ‘Song 6’ and ‘Hold My Girl’ whilst it’s a nice change, I think the punchier ‘Blame it on Me’ should have come a little earlier in the setlist to split it up a bit. Ending the main set with his previously usual encore of ‘Budapest’ was a brave move, or maybe not as everyone knew he still hadn’t played that ‘Shotgun’ song yet. Ezra is still telling the story of how he never actually reached Budapest the first time on his travels. Interaction with the audience hit the top notch with those “You, You, I’d leave it all” call backs, although some people near me were singing “I dooby do”, but we are in Leeds so be grateful that it wasn’t “Yorkshire Yorkshire”.
The encore actually starts with an old one and probably the first track to get him really noticed ‘Cassie O’ and I still laugh at the lyrics “Well, I got my tracing paper, so that I could trace my clock, And the bastard face kept changing, and the hands, they wouldn’t stop”.
The final track had to be ‘Shotgun’ and it was like everyone was waiting for it, chairs left upright everyone on their feet and dancing, George Ezra was made for the Arenas –who knew?.
He is definitely the nicest man in music right now, that’s the very clean image he portrays, the friendly personality, and his glossy happy music. I think it will be important for the longer-term career that he puts a bit of darker soul rather than more bland sugar into the mix, otherwise he risks becoming the next James Blunt – and nobody wants that! For now, his star is rising faster than any of his peers and I would expect that to continue for at least the next couple of years. Festival headlining slots are beckoning this summer and the next venue in Leeds outside of the festival circuit would be Roundhay Park, where Sheeran is playing 2 shows later this year –watch out Ed he’s on your tail, and he’s got a Shotgun!