Montreal, Show Reviews — September 16, 2016 at 23:54

James Bay and Kevin Garrett at CEPSUM

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A James Bay concert is less of a concert than it is a religious experience … so I have learnt.

Just a day ago, the British indie-pop sensation “with the long hair” stopped by the Centre d’Éducation Physique et des Sports de l’Université de Montréal (CEPSUM) to kick off his last “Chaos and the Calm” tour. And what a way to start off on a high note!

After being sold out immediately following the first release of tickets, Evenko decided to release a very limited amount of last minute tickets to meet the demands of a wanting audience. The ferocious hunt for tickets was a true testament to the passion felt by these fans … that was until I witnessed the growing line of fans waiting for HOURS outside of the venue. Luckily, the patient audience members made it in on time, as they ran to watch the performance from either a vast floor section or one of 2,460 seats. This. Place. Was. Huge.

Up first was opening act, Kevin Garrett. This Pittsburgh-bred performer is new to the music scene, with his EP “Mellow Drama” released only last April. However, Garrett is genuinely in a league of his own, with a musical style that blends the best of classic soul, R&B, and modern contemporary-electro. Hearing him sing hits like “Coloring,” “Control,” and “Precious,” live was both a sweet treat and pleasant surprise for audience members. Here was this timid onstage presence singing unimaginable falsettos and belting out vocal registers you didn’t think were possible without messing up. The crowd absorbed every note he sang, swaying with eyes closed then roaring to life after the song finished. Truly appreciative of the large crowd’s response, Garrett thanked us various times throughout his set and even afterwards on social media. But unfortunately, his time was up, and next was the main event: James Bay.

The lights shut off abruptly and everything turned the familiar black that cues every frequent concert goer to loose their mind. All of a sudden, a frenzy of lights flashed in all directions accompanied by the band and James slaying the guitar. Starting with “Collide,” the fans immediately attempted to simultaneously sing, dance, and film every moment. Following up with “Craving,” and “When We Were on Fire,” Bay bulldozed through hit after hit.

Astonished by our karaoke skills during “If You Ever Want to Be in Love,” he took a moment to revisit the song after it was finished to hear us once again. Usually, you’d think the sounds of the performers along with the size of a venue would drown out the clarity of our voices. But not at this concert! Each lyric sung back was crystal clear and Bay wanted to bask in this special moment where a crowd came together in a successful and massive sing-a-long.

As he continued to cover nearly every single song from the deluxe version of the album, energy never ran dry. However, emotions started to run into overdrive. At one point, James began to place a soft tune that wasn’t from one of his songs, but sounded way too familiar. One by one, as each audience member caught on to what was being played, the voices emerged as the crowd sang along to “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”. While that alone was a touching moment, he only made it better by using this song to transition into one of his most gut-wrenching hits, “Scars.” To the surprise of many, various paper hearts simultaneously arose in the crowd, with “We Love You” written across them. Striking an emotional chord with James, he had to stop the song partway through. In recognition of how much this meant to him, he returned the kind gesture by bringing all of his strength to the remainder of his set.

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Feet were jumping during “Best Fake Smile,” hands were waving during “Move Together,” and iPhones were snapchatting during “Let It Go.” He even turned himself into a 60s rock star with a cover of “Proud Mary.” But the most outstanding moment of this concert, by far, was when he insisted on pausing the show for a brief moment to share this with us:

Every time –and I kind of tried to say it earlier through the screaming and shouting – every time I’ve come to Montreal … this very specific place … I’ve gone away like ‘That was literally the best crowd.’” – James Bay

As with any great show, though, it had to come to an end at some point, and in a classical James Bay fashion, he ended with a bang by pounding out the notes to “Hold Back the River.”  But, even though the lights have faded, the venue has been cleared out, and James Bay is long gone, those memories from that night are forever lasting.

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