“Please don't hurt me, I'm a fragile one,” the 26-year-old pleads on “10am, Gard du Nord” from last year's Birthdays, and tonight is clearly a trial for this stage shy Londoner, if not for his adoring fans who whoop through this compelling but brief Meltdown set.
Keaton Henson, backed by the Josella String Quartet, performs (on grand piano and acoustic guitar) on a QEH stage made up over 3,000 antique car wing mirrors (as designed by Clarke & Reilly).
The hirsute songwriter is touched by the extravagance, but the intermittent deep breaths and the admission “What a farce” betray his nerves.
Nevertheless there's steel (“As we lie in bed, I feel lonely/ Though we're young/ I feel 80 years old” he claims on “Lying to You”), in this delicate crooner's laments and humour (“I think I just killed something on stage,” he quips) in his onstage patter.
This hushed experience is part recital (his new album, Romantic Works, is classical) and part Jeff Buckley/Randy Newman (his “idols of idols”) tribute and all the more absorbing for it.
Henson, son of the actor of Nicky Henson and ballet dancer Marguerite Porter, feels utterly authentic and has an older man's sensibilities much like a young Cat Stevens.
His ache doesn't feel fake and “You Don't Know How Lucky You Are” is beguiling.