Tour Review: James Bay Has Found His Electric Light

When you are a fan of an artist for multiple years, you witness their evolution. For me, this happened with James Bay, the once shy, awkward singer who always used to wear a giant hat and whose hair was way too long. That James Bay is now gone.

Performing at 10:40 pm as the headliner of UNALTROFESTIVAL in Milan, the waiting for Bay's set was palpable. The sun had just gone down, people--including me--were starting to get impatient, and I honestly did not know what to expect from the show.

The last time I saw Bay was in 2016, when he had just put out Chaos and the Calm. That album is one of my favourite records of all time; songs like "Move Together," "Scars," and the heartbreaking "Incomplete" make it the best comfort music to listen to when in a difficult situation. I had, consequently, very high expectations for the second album, which came out this year. In truth, Electric Light kind of disappointed me: the sounds were heavier than necessary, and the lyrics lost a little bit of the depth and intensity I had loved in his first album. It is not a "bad" album, but it did not live up to its predecessor.

Electric Light 

In all his glory, Bay walked on stage to the heavy beats of "Wasted On Each Other," which felt like a punch in the face. I was used to the idea of James as the introverted artist who just gets lost in his music, but now it feels different. His wall of hair has been cut, and his guitar is no longer a shield--it is instead a weapon. The energy and power James began with surprised me so much that I had to reevaluate my maybe too-rushed opinion on the sophomore album.

As the night progressed, the vintage roaring sounds of songs like "Pink Lemonade" alternated with the old-school acoustic style of "Let It Go," creating the perfect balance between nostalgia and euphoria.

The interaction with the crowd was subtle, but it was definitely there. Bay is a great performer, and when I say great, I mean that he tries to involve as many people as possible, dancing around on stage while playing the guitar, singing (perfectly, if I must say), and showing off with his other band members. He was able to sustain the energy throughout the entire show, making it enjoyable for everyone in every moment. He was playful and threw his guitar picks around as if they were confetti.

From a musical point of view, the sounds blended perfectly together with his new style, and he was the exact personification of what Electric Light stands for: the freedom to do whatever we want. If he produced an album that was not as emotionally invested as the previous one, there must be a reason for it; the same goes for the haircut and his decision to leave the hat in the Chaos era. His music's delicacy was reinterpreted by way of an amazing gospel choir, who accompanied the melodies of  "Us," "Wild Love," and the intimate "Slide" (these are also, in my opinion, the best songs off the album). His performance here carried an extreme level of professionalism and talent. At times, it was quiet and hidden. Other times, it exploded with the lights at the back of the stage.

The peak was reached after the vibrant "Best Fake Smile." Following an encore punctuated by guitar sounds and solos, Bay caught the audience by surprise by playing "Need The Sun to Break." This song is about being in love again and how life could change in the span of a second if the right person appears along the way. Many tears were shed, and as we cried Bay had fun playing Tina Turner's "Simply The Best," which he claims to be one of his favourite tracks of all time (and how could we blame him?). 

"Been in the dark for weeks and I've realised you're all I need..."

The second encore happened, and this time we all knew what it was going to be: "Hold Back The River." James started in a minor chord, encouraging the audience to sing the words "lonely water" at the top of their lungs, letting it build up with the guitars, drums, and choir. Along with the harmonies, it stopped abruptly, giving space to the real star of the show. The song started, and as expected it built up quickly, mimicking the excitement everyone had running through their veins. He let the crowd sing, scream, do whatever they wanted to do, and as he did, he took in the sight of thousands of people reciting the lyrics he wrote and having the time of their lives.

You can forget the phones and cameras or you can film the entire show if you want to, but always remember that you are there for one single reason, and that is to escape from reality for a couple of hours and do what everyone does best: breathe.

We all took a deep and long sigh of relief from the troubles of life, all that mattered in that moment was for us to be united in the power of music. James’ flashing smiles only contributed to alleviating the weight on our chests and held our hands to the rhythm of music and happiness.

James Bay has been able to give this feeling and more. He's able to present two completely different sides of himself in a concert full of raw yet romantic sounds, never forgetting where he came from or how far he has come. He did all of this in the humblest of ways; he did not walk on stage with the presumption that he is superior to everyone else. Instead, he walked on conscious of the fact that somewhere inside he is still that English guy with a hat bigger than he is, but not bigger than his potential. Could he make a slightly better album? Yes. But could he perform more amazingly than he did? No.

All photos by Silvia Pellegrino unless stated otherwise.


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