Gig Review by Adrienne Frances with Photography by Lee Allen

Tom Odell

Where are the interesting men? Where are the male singer-songwriters whose songs inspire feelings of crushing loneliness, an ache for some indescribable emotion, lyrics veiled in metaphor and myth, songs with meaning, personality, originality? Where are the Jeff Buckley’s and Elliot Smiths? There are *so* many women who fit this category – Laura Marling’s impassioned words wrapped in archetypes and imagery, Regina Spektor’s quirky jarring rhythms and bilingual lyrics, and even the likes of Tori Amos whose songs rooted in personal experience are cleverly cloaked in popular culture and fantasy.

Fryars
Fryars

I’ve been interested in Tom Odell, long before ‘Can’t Pretend’ was used to advertise the latest series of The Newsroom (at which my heart dropped as no good has ever come from someone whose song has been used in advertising before they’ve even established themselves). ‘Can’t Pretend’ reeled me in the very first time I heard it – not so much through any complexity, but instead through the rhythmic ebb and flow of a song whose melody blended with simplistic lyrics to create a rousing tidal wave crashing down and leaving only an empty flat refrain – an aftermath, acceptance of the unhealthy relationship described therein. A song written by a talented songwriter that left me wanting more. Fast forward through 2013, the release of Long Way Down, a string of nominations and awards, and now I finally had the opportunity to see him live.

Fryars

I probably should have managed my own expectations a little better – after all, I bought the album and really only loved two of the tracks. I’m not prejudiced like Mark Beaumont (NME) who caused Odell’s dad to phone up complaining about his 0/10 review – but I can kind of agree with some of the points he made. The majority of the album is *absolutely okay*. He sings and plays piano very well, and is clearly a competent songwriter – but in such a safe bland way, it makes my ears feel bored. Most tracks veer more into jingly jangly territory than into the realm of inspirational. And again, that’s fine. People love that. People love listening to music that requires no thought, which they can sing-a-long to en masse. I’m not that kind of person though.

Tom Odell

The mostly female crowd were very polite, paying adequate attention to the support – Fryars. The first song felt like it had potential, and I perked up to see Ben Garrett at his keyboard offering well-executed song after song. All fairly ploddy, with catchy choruses, but ultimately not hugely exciting or provocative. Reasonably bland sweeping lyrics gave way to an electronic edge that then veered into the realms of a one drop reggae beat – at which point I tuned out. Fryar’s set felt too sketchy, a mishmash of bland noise, and whilst the crowd nodded along my mind wandered.

Tom Odell

Odell’s stage setup was gorgeous. Simple full-length drapes, rows of suspended PAR cans surrounding his name in bright bold illuminated lettering centre stage. He took to the stage to roaring applause, accompanied by full band, and proceeded to play a set full of songs from his only album so far, with a couple of new tracks thrown into the mix for good measure. The sound quality was perfect – at the very back of the Civic his voice was crisp and clear, despite the chattering hordes more engrossed in their own conversation than the singer they paid to see. Even during obligatory sing-alongs, the crowd failed to drown out Odell’s vocals, and I found myself nodding and humming along in time.

Tom Odell

Clearly ‘Can’t Pretend’ was always going to be one of my highlights, and it didn’t disappoint. He began the track alone on piano, and as he built the sound up his band dropped in to boost the final third of the track. It was a perfect rendition, like all of his songs that night, but it left me wanting more. It was like he was a perfectly tuned robot, performing exactly as programmed. It must sound like I’m being harsh, but let me be very clear: he’s a very talented musician; he kept the crowd engaged throughout (as demonstrated by the squealing housewives and teenagers and marriage proposals gutturally shouted from all corners of the room) and performed beautifully. I just felt like something was missing. I like live music to have that extra element you can’t get on a recording – whether it’s a faltering vocal cracking with emotion, or an improvised extra verse, or some other intangible quality that sets it aside from album tracks. And that mysterious quality felt lacking.

Tom Odell

Tom Odell

That said, he chatted to the crowd between tracks, and was unsurprisingly over-polite, nodding his floppy blonde locks at the crowd, and smiling at the adoration washing over him. ‘Grow Old With Me’ was a big crowd pleaser – one of my least favourite songs (supposedly romantic, but another clichéd bland plod-a-thon) but one the crowd all swayed to, clutching loved ones and singing along throughout. I hate sing-alongs, but at least Odell offers the crowd a clear designated time to pipe up during this and ‘I Know’.

Tom Odell

Towards the end of his set we endured a jingly jangly piano clap-a-long reminiscent of the very worst of Jools Holland, used as a means to introduce the band to the crowd one instrument at a time. It was at this point I found myself looking around at the audience full of applause, and came back to my original question:
WHERE ARE THE INTERESTING MEN?
They weren’t at the Civic that night, but I was a fool for hoping otherwise.

Tom Odell

(See the complete photo set on our Flick page)

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