James Bay has returned to Manchester promoting his new album Leap for a sold-out stint at Manchester Academy. With chart-smashing classics ‘Hold Back The River’ and ‘Let It Go’ under his belt, as well as newer hits like ‘Us’, ‘Peer Pressure’, and ‘One Life’, James Bay has constantly proven his skills as a singer-songwriter, pianist, and guitarist (the latter he famously expresses through the many guitar swaps on stage).
First up on the stage was support act Kevin Garrett, who serenaded the audience with his sweet vulnerable vocals and acoustic guitar. He was a suitable opener, his style being reminiscent of James Bay himself with an exploration of soft vocal harmonies, infectious beats, and deft guitar-playing. Aside from being initially blurred out by an over-abundance of smoke on the warmly lit stage, he continued to knock his performance out of the park with an endearing attitude and skilled vocal ability.
Then it was time for the headliner, who arrived on stage in his trademark hat. As the band slowly kicked in James Bay was met with the excited screams of his fans and the lights strobed to the rhythm before fully revealing him from the darkness. He belted out a number of songs from previous albums mixed in with the newer ones from Leap, as well as allowing new and old fans to unleash their wild sides to his extreme guitar riffs and gorgeous vocals before oscillating back to soulful, smoother songs. He truly has a variety for pop, rock, acoustic, and soul fans alike to enjoy!
The stage was filled by his live band featuring guitarists, a drummer (whose drum featured a sketch of James Bay) and a keyboardist, all of which equally showed their love of music through their skills and enthusiasm. Lights were used to increase excitement and emphasise the rhythm of riffs and rock moments. On the other hand, calming beams and colours were utilised in his more sentimental songs. This complemented his voice – a vulnerable one filled with falsettos, tremolos and gorgeous rises and falls. I especially loved the sun-like backdrop used behind the band that added so much beauty to an otherwise simple but engaging set.
Despite being ill at the moment, James Bay continued the show as if nothing was wrong and showed the same dynamism and excitement as his previous livestream performance which I reviewed back in October 2020. The audience were particularly excited and joined in with clapping to the beat, dancing and singing all night long. Whilst he didn’t play with or reinvent his songs as much this time, I felt this decision was made to keep the songs familiar and enchanting for the audience, with more instrumental experimentation in the headbanging riffs instead.
You can keep up with the latest updates from James Bay on his official website here.