Singer-songwriter James Bay brought both chaos and calm to the Orpheum Theatre Wednesday night with an intimate show that kept his fans on their feet from start to finish.
Three years ago, James Bay was best known as the large body of water on the southern end of Hudson Bay. But all that changed in 2013 when a concertgoer filmed a clip of an unknown British singer performing at an open mic night and uploaded the video to YouTube. The clip went viral, a record deal was signed, and a star was born.
The following year, James Bay (the singer) released “Let It Go” from his EP of the same name. The song cracked the top 40 of Billboard’s pop chart and landed him the most prestigious job in the music industry: serving as the opening act on a Taylor Swift world tour. The cushy gig coincided with the release of Bay’s first full length album Chaos and the Calm which earned the singer three Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist.
After a quick set by Joseph (the Pacific Northwest’s answer to Haim), Bay took the stage last night just shortly after 9:00 p.m. playing “Collide” to screams and swoons from his mostly female audience.
The low-key superstar certainly doesn’t look like a typical rock singer. As per usual, Bay was clad in a baggy black t-shirt and a Quaker-style hat and was more content to let his music do the talking last night instead of his clothes. That didn’t stop one overzealous fan from screaming “take off your pants!” during his somber version of “Scars,” however.
With the exception of her, the fans at last night’s concert kept it cool, calm, and collected for the most part. They chimed in on background vocals during almost every song, and the sensitive rocker’s gravelly voice had fans reaching for each other and not their phones. All snap-chatting and selfie-taking was kept to a minimum last night, as the crowd was just as attentive as they were enthralled by Bay’s performance.
That said, it’s impossible to keep your shit together when you’re in the same room with England’s Next Big Thing and he’s rocking out to “Best Fake Smile.” Bay has said he was inspired to pick up the electric guitar after hearing Eric Clapton’s “Layla” as a kid, and it’s clear from his edgier tunes that Bay has been influenced by some of the best guitar heroes in rock music history.
The singer’s entire setlist was comprised of songs from his debut album with the exception of two covers – the first was an instrumental version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” while the second was “Look Out Cleveland” originally recorded by The Band. Bay surprised the crowd by inviting opening act Joseph to help him out on “Cleveland,” but the audience knew something was up when Bay’s band cleared the stage and left him stranded.
“I like to do this thing where I play a song on my own with a lot of microphones around. That’s my British sarcasm for the evening,” he said to big laughs. “There’s this band, right?And four-fifths of them are from Canada. They’ve got a really great name, and it’s ‘The Band.’ We’re gonna do this song you don’t know, but we have a really good time singing it together.”
And we had a really good time singing it with him, too. “Look Out Cleveland” was definitely a show highlight, as was “Move Together” and encore “Hold Back The River.” The atmosphere in the room last night was euphoric, and Bay was just as impressed with his fans as they were with him. “I have to say, on the behalf of everyone backstage who came here for the first time today – this is beautiful,” he said of Vancouver. “This is insane.”
Our city has played host to a number of arena-sized spectacles this month and I covered a bunch of them. I squealed like an idiot during Rihanna’s epic twerk-a-thon at Rogers, and I had trouble hearing for two days following the fireworks presentation at Paul McCartney’s show in the same venue. But there were no bells and whistles on display at the Orpheum last night, as Bay’s fans were treated to something entirely different – a good ol’ fashioned rock concert.