ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 9, 2006
NOT MANY RECORDING artists get to headline a venue the size of GM Place with just one album under their belt, but only seven months after nearly selling out the 2,800-seat Orpheum Theatre, James Blunt packed several thousand more bodies into the Canucks’ home rink. Apparently, people can’t get enough of the 10 touching ballads that make up his multiplatinum debut, Back to Bedlam, which was released in January of 2005.
“My one and only album came out far too long ago,” noted the self-deprecating tunesmith last Sunday, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you are using them as frisbees by now. I’m going to play some new songs, but don’t applaud too soon, ’cause they might be shit.”
The new material didn’t sound like crap, though, thanks in large part to the exceptional players that have accompanied the 29-year-old as he’s conquered the world with his trim catalogue of sad songs. Guitarist Ben Castle, keyboardist Paul Beard, bassist Malcolm Moore, and drummer Karl Brazil were a unifying force that never came off as hired hands backing up a big shot. A serious shout-out is also owed Blunt’s audio team for conjuring the cleanest, most effective sound ever heard at the notoriously iffy arena.
“I’m on the piano now,” announced Blunt about four tunes into the set, “and that can mean only one thing: it’s time for a miserable song.” Then he got the crowd all choked up with “Goodbye My Lover”, a tearjerker that recalls Elton John at his sentimental best. When Blunt leaned away from the microphone and mouthed a few lines, the mostly female crowd took it as a cue to get all angelic on the melancholy chorus.
“We’ve been miserable for a moment,” said Blunt after the ladies had done their part, “now it’s time to take our clothes off.” Then he stripped down to a red T-shirt and led the band in the night’s only cover, Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America”. During the carnival-like “la-da-da-da” part, Blunt left the stage to get closer to the adoring women in the front row. This caused a bit of a frenzy as they rushed to get within grabbing distance of the scruffy cutie-pie, apparently in hopes of taking home a fistful of his heartfelt compassion.
Blunt began his three-song encore with a new track titled “1973”, which got me thinking about my personal soundtrack at that time. As well as the standard ABCs of Chilliwack Senior High (Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper), I appreciated the milder stylings of Brit singer-songwriter Al Stewart, and the bouncy “1973” brought to mind Stewart’s mid-’70s hit “Year of the Cat”.
Blunt also shares Stewart’s nasally vocal approach, and—with tunes like the Kosovo-inspired “No Bravery”—his penchant for ballads that focus on historical conflicts. While studying my vinyl copy of 1974’s Past, Present and Future later that night, I discovered that, back then, Stewart looked an awful lot like Blunt looks today. I wonder if James Blunt is even aware that he’s the long-lost love child of Al Stewart.
If he knew, he might not be so sad.