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Words by Kate Lockyer

The man standing onstage sports a black fedora, long locks, and skinny jeans. Are we back in the 2010s? No, but we’re about to be hit with a wave of nostalgia, showmanship and a dizzying array of guitars as we watch James Bay do his thing at The Star Casino on the Gold Coast.

But let’s rewind to the start of the night, when we were dazzled by opening act Merpire. Enigmatic Melbourne-based muso Merpire kicked off the night with her bewitching indie rock ballads. Her bright orange pants and yellow top contrasted with her pared-back style of performance, just her voice and guitar. Smoky vocals on a smoky stage, combined with a bell-like higher register, and stark chords jutting from her guitar, most of her songs channelled this cool demeanour, all while she bares her soul in the lyrics. Village is a perfect example of this edgy lyricism, with lines like “You are a living sugar refinery / I am a species addicted / We go together like two peas on a knife”. Merpire has a firm conception of who she is as an artist, and I love her for it.

James Bay came out with a surging guitar solo and flashing lights, with the high-energy and uplifting 2015 gem Best Fake Smile. Immediately, he commented on the strangeness we all felt, seated in the built-in rows of theatre seating at a show like this – and at the invitation to get up off our seats we leapt to our feet to groove along to the music. It was the perfect song to get everyone hyped for an evening of his music, and Bay finished the song with a playful spin on his heel.

Swapping to a butterscotch blonde tele, he then launched into Just For Tonight, a catchy track that gives us our first peek of the night at his romantic side, a big part of his appeal to many fans I’m sure. Wanderlust was similarly lovestruck, and bathed in blue light, the crowd was loving it. His well-known slick vocals were bolstered by the three guitars in this show, adding to the feeling of showmanship he exuded as he pulled his pick off the chords with neatly timed flicks. Bay’s band was bursting with musicianship, with Samson Jatto on drums, Loucas Hajiantoni on keys, Luke Bullard on guitar and Tom Peel on bass.

His business-like roadie strode back onstage (he was kept busy with these guitar swaps), this time to hand him a 12-string acoustic. To play the more ballad-like, reflective If You Ever Want To Be In Love, we get a softer touch with more keys and an echoey vocal effect. Bay’s falsetto on “I’ll” for the line “I’ll come around”, before switching back into his rich belt, is delightful. 

A bit of banter with the crowd (someone calling out “Jimmy”) had Bay joke, “I know I’m in Australia when I get called Jimmy!” Us starts with just vocals, keys and a tap of each beat on the drums before the rousing and emotional chorus, which he has moved to a new acoustic guitar for, has the crowd singing along. Bay stuns us with his soulful vocal riffs and off course, big last note on “love”

Then we got a red Epiphone and things got steamy – Bay played a rendition of Peer Pressure, which he originally recorded with Julia Michaels, who he tells us he actually met in Australia. I missed Michaels’ heavenly harmonies but this rendition was also great. It felt like it was right at the bottom of his range, which in a way made it more intimate. Bay was almost whispering into the mic with a gravelly intonation. Wild Love kept this same atmosphere, playful and sensual.

Then we had another of Bay’s big hits – Let It Go – which transported us all back to the collective chord that it struck with us in 2014. In the room was silence, except for the sound of everyone singing along when it got to the chorus. Doubtless having sung this song countless times over the last ten years, he played with the inflections and rhythms of the lyrics while still staying loyal to that raw pathos. 

Then we got One Life, a more recent release off his 2022 album ‘Leap’. Bay said this was one of his favourite songs. Knowing the sweet stories he has told of his childhood sweetheart bride, you couldn’t help but imagine a fairytale ending of your own listening to this song as he painted a homely picture: “I see me and you / By the door, rushing in from the rain / At the back of the garden”. It was a heady acoustic track that seemed to trace loving hearts through its twirling melody lines. 

My favourite song of the night had to be When We Were On Fire, which I admittedly overlooked on the recording but was completely electrifying live – those guitars! It started out with the audience clapping a double time beat and a steady few repeated notes on rhythm guitar… then Bay kicked in with guitar solo, just the first of many in this song, we were to discover. For a song about a fizzling love, it was a hot, bluesy, blazing bonfire – we should have known when he took off that iconic hat that he was about to get serious. Apart from a segment of vocalisations that ascended their way up like magma from a volcano, the minutes-long guitar solo was thrilling. At the end, Bay joked, “I think I got it all out”. The rest of the room sure did, too. 

Endless Summer Nights kept up the energy with its quick beat, the pounding of drums and simple guitars enveloping his voice and accentuating the unassuming but stirring melody. Pink Lemonade was similarly upbeat, although I’ve never been one for songs with repetitive lyrics. 

Craving I could certainly get behind though, starting with slow chords on that Epiphone and light drums, before launching into Bay’s forte – heartfelt pop tracks that show off his vocals. I love the theme of this one, searching for something beyond what we know, plus I’m a sucker for those anthemic songs with a double time guitar strum underneath that just feel like they are building and building. 

A woman with coloured hair in the front row had brought a sign along, and as far as I could gather James Bay read it aloud – something along the lines of “James, please play Give Me The Reason… for my cat”! Tenderly, he did her bidding with a verse and chorus, before segueing into some bluesy fingerpicking of what turned out to be Can’t Help Falling in Love. “You gotta do a little Elvis when you’re playing a casino”, he said. 

Then, we got a stripped back start to Scars, just Bay and his guitar silhouetted by the spotlight, with the band back for the final chorus, buoying us along for the second last song of the night. The final song – and there was only one possibility left, given he hadn’t yet played crowd favourite Hold Back the River – began with a remixed “Can we stop for a minute” as the whole chord progression played underneath this repeated line. Everyone was jumping along, cresting the wave, before we were plunged into the serenity of the deep with that undeniable guitar intro. It was a fantastic, blood-pumping finish to a fabulous concert. 

James Bay’s final appearance on his Australian tour is on Sunday 24th March at SummerSalt 2024 | Seppeltsfield Wines, Seppeltsfield SA – Tickets




Thanks to Menard PR

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