James Blunt, O2 Arena, London
Monday 20 October 2008
For someone who has become a figure of fun, James Blunt isn't doing too badly for himself. Many may find his songs the worst type of dinner-party music and his lyrics bland to the point of inanity, but by now you will already know whether you love him or hate him.
One thing that is clear is that he doesn't care – and why should he, when he's playing concerts the size of the O2? Despite almost constant critical attack, Blunt has built a large and loyal fan base, due in no small part to a tightly honed live show, which, though not high on innovation or shocks, is an hour and a half of pure entertainment – if you're a fan, of course. The final date on his UK arena tour was no exception, and the thousands who turned up to see the Harrow-educated former soldier received exactly what they wanted – an energetic, full-throated run-through of their favourite sing-alongs.
After support act Teddy Thompson, whose tales of despair contain the sense of humour and real emotion that Blunt is often accused of lacking, the main attraction was clearly eager to please, bounding around the stage as he performed a mix of songs from his debut record Back to Bedlam and 2007 follow-up All the Lost Souls. But despite a strong band, the whole affair lacked a spark, partly due to the all-seated venue.
It took the cover of the Slade anthem "Coz I Luv U", midway through the set, to lift the crowd to their feet. As a thousand camera phones clicked and hands stretched out, Blunt jumped into the audience and sprinted into the centre of the arena to a piano on a hydraulic platform, which was lifted into the air as he completed the song.
It was there that he sang funeral-favourite "Goodbye My Lover", which was sung back to him in such a way as to raise the hairs on the back of even the most cynical gig-goer's neck. Back on the stage, he similarly dispatched "You're Beautiful" as if it was the first time he had performed it, even though you suspect its ubiquity must have made it something of an albatross.
In many ways Blunt's vapidity is a blessing, with the lack of real emotion from the man himself leaving the songs free for his fans to project their own feelings on to. Crucially, he's also completely sincere, and no matter how terrible you may think it is, a lack of cynicism in music as populist as this makes a refreshing change. Finishing with "1973", Blunt showed that as much as you may wish it not to be so, he has made the move from one-hit wonder to bona-fide star.
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