James Bay was in a sentimental mood Saturday night at the Midland theater. Suggesting that his career had “come full circle,” the British pop star reflected on his remarkable progress.
Bay recalled that he was an unheralded opening act at the venue three years ago on his first tour of the United States. He told the capacity audience of more than 2,500 people that “this is the last night of all the touring I’ll do for ‘Chaos and the Calm.’ ” Released 18 months ago, Bay’s subdued debut album made him a global star.
Saturday’s 95-minute outing indicated that while Bay merits his lofty status, an interesting artistic dichotomy eventually may need to be resolved.
Much of the audience consisted of women in their 20s who were enjoying a girls’ night out with their friends. They discovered that Bay is a rock ’n’ roller who happens to have written a few sentimental hits rather than a hypersensitive troubadour who dabbles in rock.
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Rather than offering a faithful interpretation of “Let It Go,” a hit that is a staple on the play lists of adult contemporary radio stations, Bay embellished the ballad with bluesy lead guitar playing. He made amends for the modification by leading fans in a hearty sing-along at the song’s conclusion.
He huddled with his four-piece backing band in an extended jam during the encore. Rather than receiving a roar of approval when he stopped the noisy improvisation and turned to the audience, Bay was greeted with a few moments of stunned silence.
The artist’s striking appearance helped fans quickly forgive Bay for defying their expectations. So thin that he might be able to hide behind one of his guitars, Bay looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine.
His voice is equally attractive. Bay’s vocals on “Chaos and the Calm” are a bit melodramatic, but Bay’s tasteful voice ranged from a silky murmur to an impressive roar on fresh treatments of all twelve of the album’s selections. An unaccompanied rendition of “Scars” was enchanting while a reading of “Move Together” was as alluring as a seductive ballad by the soul crooner John Legend.
After announcing that he intended to “go away and make a lot of music,” Bay pledged that he would appear at “a much bigger room” when he returned to Kansas City. If he can strike a balance between his talent for creating hushed love songs and his inclination to play loud rock, the bold prediction may come true.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
Collide; Craving; When We Were on Fire; If You Ever Want to Be in Love; Need the Sun to Break; Let It Go; Scars; Move Together; Best Fake Smile; Get Out While You Can; Clocks Go Forward; Incomplete; Piece of My Heart; Hold Back the River.