George Ezra: Beckett University Union: Leeds

A bar-emptying support act is always an intriguing thing and bar-emptying is exactly what Rae Morris appears to be. So far she has caused those reviewing the George Ezra tour to make some pretty positive noises – a thoroughly understandable thing based on this showing. Perched at her keyboard, Morris is an explosion of hair and elaborate vocals; an impressive and memorable cocktail of Kate Bush, Dolores O’Riordan, Tori Amos and, if you’re looking for something more contemporary, Ellie Goulding before she got a bit shit.

She has an attention-grabbing variation in her songs, there’s an experimental feel to them and her vocals leap between octaves effortlessly; one minute it is so frail it threatens to crumble away, the next it’s blowing your hair back and widening your eyes. It may have been a tough choice for the crowds to abandon the bar this early but it was entirely the right one.

Even the dregs of the die-hard bar flies have made their way into the audience by the time George Ezra steps out from the shadows. He casually and politely introduces himself before leading into ‘Cassy-O’ and releasing the unfeasibly rich baritone he is now so well known for. It’s a good choice to kick things off; getting the crowd’s first mass participation underway and priming them more of the same as the night wears on. In the short time between Ezra’s first few internet releases getting picked up by local radio (eventually being taken under the wing of ‘BBC introducing’) and the release, and subsequent touring, of his debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’, he has taken to the charming on-stage schmooze like the proverbial duck. He is clearly comfortable as the centre of attention and doesn’t waste much time in getting the crowd (albeit a pretty partisan one) tucked neatly into the palm of his hand.

The collective know all the words and aren’t afraid to prove it – there’s a pretty rowdy response considering how relatively passive a lot of the songs could be considered. Sometimes people just want a song they can hum along to, delivered in a sweet, velvety box and that is precisely what you get with a considerable chunk of Ezra’s catalogue. Yes, they are simple enough creations – no over-extravagant middle-eights or bizarre twists and turns – but they take the science of being concise and pleasing to the ear and turn it into a fine art. Radio-friendly singles are interspersed with album tracks; most are personal observations of the world (some literal, some less so) With titles like ‘Budapest’ and ‘Benjamin Twine’ (which is introduced by George telling us it’s about his friend, Benjamin Twine) don’t force you to think too hard about what inspired them but they whole-heartedly invite you into whatever time or space they refer to. The whole vibe is one of mass inclusion, of just wanting to tell you a story without bombarding you with metaphors and nods at hidden meanings. It is, in a way you wouldn’t imagine it could be at a crowded gig populated heavily by drunken, staggery, overly chatty types, quite relaxing.

‘Blame It On Me’ steps things up, the elevated chorus encouraging hands to reach for the rafters and voices to actually hit them. By far one of the standout tracks on the album, it is definitely helping Ezra earn his stripes as a fine, young talent and provides his voice with the opportunity to start stretching its legs.

A warmly received rendition of ‘Barcelona’ tip-toes through the room and, not long after, the band members take a quick drinks break. While they’re gone George single-handedly serenades his doting public – the lack of the rest of the band focussing the attention on “that voice”. Somebody once commented to me that he was like a skinny little lad version of Amy Winehouse and I immediately understood what they meant. He doesn’t have tall hair, rubbish tattoos or an obsession with a scratty jailbird but he has got a voice that is aching with soul and, when you take away everything else, that is where the real power lies.

The first time I heard “…George Ezra, a singer-song writer from Bristol” on 6Music I assumed he was an old, dreadlocked, grey-bearded blues man, such was the tone in those pipes. And that is exactly what he is…only trapped in the body of a clean-shaven student. And for all the nice, catchy numbers he has, no matter how well ‘Budapest’ goes down (and it goes down brilliantly with a chorus of “oohs” from the crowd), it is when he steps over to the dark side that you are really shown what he’s got in the tank. The acapella intro to final song of the night, ‘Did You Hear The Rain’, is pure unadulterated Mississippi blues – the kind of sound you’d normally have to make a midnight deal at a deserted crossroads to get; soul-shudderingly beautiful.

When the music kicks in again it sweeps us towards the thumping finish of a show that leaves nobody in the room in any doubt that the act they have just seen is a genuinely unique talent.

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