Last night’s James Blunt (All the Lost Souls Tour) show at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was filled with surprises, from the eclectic crowd to Blunt’s energetic and highly entertaining performance. (My husband claims Blunt performs sad-sacky chick-music, a concept commonly held by a listening public repeatedly bludgeoned with Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” But I’ll get to that.)
The first surprise was opener Erick Baker, a Knoxville-based musician who was only signed on for the gig last Friday (the same day, coincidentally, that he released his solo debut EP, It’s Getting Too Late to Say It’s Early). Baker, lead singer for Down From Up, comes across as an unassuming heart-on-sleeve troubadore of intricately crafted, emotive Americana. His voice is raw and powerful, and his ability to whip an early crowd into a respectable frenzy: Duly noted. In fact, this gig is likely to launch Baker into regional celebrity, and deservedly so. He’s a little bit Bright Eyes and a little bit The Everybodyfields. My only complaint is that his opening slot ran just long enough so I noticed that a lot of his songs sound alike. Also, his humble-pie exclamations of gratitude and disbelief at being selected for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open for a mega-star seem slightly less authentic to me after learning that he recently opened for John Legend. Still, give the guy a listen.
Moving on. Despite my husband’s insistence that no guy would attend a James Blunt show unless dragged there by the woman in his life, the theater was packed with all genders, races and ages. Middle school kids. Grandmas. Couples on dates. Guys with guys. Teens. Middle-aged couples. You get the picture. The stage was initially decked out with a weird flag-like backdrop that, thankfully (and dramatically), dropped a few measured into the opening number to reveal Blunt’s full backing band. The show was choreographed to the hilt with film footage, projections, lights, confetti and a gong that descended from the rafters at one point allowing the singer to strike it with an oversized mallet. For anyone expecting a slow-core reverie of Blunt’s saddest hit, this wasn’t it. Instead, even songs that on the radio get sad-song treatment were energetic, near-dancable numbers.
In fact, the only real downer of the evening was the point when Blunt asked the audience to stop their shrieking (what he referred to as the “new age mating call”) while he performed his war-themed song “No Bravery” solo, on piano, to film footage of a battle-ravaged Eastern-European country. However, the singer seemed determined to keep the mood light, for the most part, performing hits like “I’ll Take Everything,” “So Long Jimmy,” “Wise men” and “Give Me Some Love” with full instrumentation and driving beats. On well-known love-songs like “Good Bye My Lover” and the ubiquitous “You’re Beautiful” he encouraged a willing audience to sing along, leaving whole verses and choruses to the crowd.
For an encore, Blunt performed three disco-flavored songs culminating with Souls single “1973,” after which he photographed the audience while the screen behind him rolled images of audiences from previous concerts. All in all, a memorable show.