The solemnity of two tranquil singer-songwriters was countered by the wild passion of a firebrand rock artist at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Wednesday. A capacity audience of almost 3,000 witnessed the easy-going Australian headliner Vance Joy and the syrupy British artist Jamie Lawson get upstaged by the Los Angeles upstart Elle King.
Joy is touring in support of his 2014 debut album “Dream Your Life Away,” a collection of unobtrusive folk-steeped pop songs. His 65-minute effort varied little from his appearance at the same venue ten months ago.
The amiable artist stoically strummed a guitar or ukulele as his band provided watery textures to pleasant hits like the goofy love song “Riptide” and the insinuating “Georgia.” The highlight of Joy’s set was a reading of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” an indication that he’s in need of new material and a fresh stage production.
While Joy played it safe, King’s riveting 40-minute set was charmingly jumbled. The four members of her backing band regularly exchanged anxious looks as King surprised them with unexpected vocal runs and unfiltered commentary.
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King growled like the rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson on “Where the Devil Don’t Go” and evoked the R&B great Etta James as she testified on a cover of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling.” She joyfully frolicked during an interpretation of the hazy “Kocaine Karolina” and convincingly plucked a banjo on “Good to Be a Man.”
Wednesday’s concert was King’s first date as part of Joy’s tour but she had previously appeared at the Midland. She recalled that she was “much drunker” when she opened for Grouplove in 2012.
The Kansas City debut of Jamie Lawson included an impressive elevator speech midway through his opening solo set: “I had a number one album in England. My story is that I am the first artist signed to Ed Sheeran’s label.”
Like his superstar sponsor, Lawson sings sappy but sturdy songs with a sweet voice. The few hundred people who listened to him over the excited chatter of the audience heard an artist who merits his success.
Lawson’s most affecting song is “Wasn’t Expecting That.” His version of the knee-buckling chronicle of a lasting love affair and Joy’s renditions of his best songs may have lacked the delirious vigor of King’s outing, but their sentimental material was capable of melting the hearts of even the most jaded cynics in the concert hall on Wednesday.