James Blunt Bangs A Gong

Los Angeles, CA, USA; November 15, 2006

by Melanie Love

I know I probably lose all credibility as a music reviewer for this, but I can’t help it: I love James Blunt. Yes, “You’re Beautiful” has been played to death and more than verges on cheesy and on top of that, I’ve never been a huge fan of the dime-a-dozen, soulful pop idols, famous for a few moments of gorgeousness before imploding into one-hit wonderland – but even despite that, something about Blunt’s debut, Back To Bedlam, resonated with me. And apparently I’m not alone, because the Gibson Amphitheater, which seats about 6,000, was packed when I put aside an impending trigonometry test just to see him on Wednesday, November 15th.

Before taking the stage, British rockers Starsailor went through material from their recent album, last year’s On The Outside and earlier releases Love Is Here and Silence Is Easy. I missed most of their set trapped in a never-ending merchandise line, but what I did hear was fantastic and I went home and ordered On The Outside at midnight (which is probably why I may have bombed my trig test the next morning, but that’s another rant for another review!).

After Starsailor went off to go sign autographs, we got 45 minutes of downtime, waiting impatiently for James Blunt while trailers for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth inexplicably played in the background – until, finally, the familiar monkey from Back To Beldam’s cover began to descend, and Blunt bounded out from backstage, launching straight into “Breathe,” his mainstay opener for most of the world tour (which is just about to wind down in Las Vegas).

Some concerts can turn into staid renditions of the album, but Blunt avoided that trap by breaking up the strings of hits from Back To Bedlam with a few well-placed covers and some new, unheard material like “Annie,” with a Killers-esque chorus of “Annie, you’re a star” and “I Can’t Hear The Music,” which builds from an older demo of his called “Don’t Go” with a new chorus thrown in. He also paused a few songs in to thank anybody who hadn’t thrown his disc out of the car window or used it as a frisbee, poking fun at the backlash he received for “You’re Beautiful.” 

But back to the covers – after a melancholy solo version of “Goodbye My Lover” with Blunt at the keys, he segued into Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America” as a reference to the culminating stateside leg of his tour. For an audience that was somewhat wary about standing up to participate (other than random shoutouts of “James, you’re hot!” every so often), the upbeat energy of this track had everyone singing right along with it -- and Blunt jumping into the audience to hug the unsuspecting members of the front row probably helped in keying us up.

And though he played my favorite songs from Bedlam, including “Tears and Rain,” “Out Of My Mind,” complete with extended outro and “So Long, Jimmy” (which sounds even better translated from the album with its looser, louder groove in tribute to Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison), the real standout of the concert was his cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.” It’s been released on his live album, Chasing Time and, despite those who consider Blunt to be the epitome of hackneyed pop, manages to do complete justice to the dreamy, mellow landscapes of the brilliant original with a graceful shift from his signature falsetto to a lower growl.

Rounding out the encore was, of course, “You’re Beautiful,” which had the crowd on its feet and singing along, even inserting “fucking high” in the bridge instead of the more radio-friendly “flying high” without prompt -- and, never shying away from high-energy bombast, the concert closed with a gong being lowered and Blunt gallivanting about the stage before finally thrashing it in a nod towards Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Even with Los Angeles being one of the last few stops on a presumably exhausting jaunt around the world, Blunt gave us his all, straining his voice to hit the high notes and jumping around stage and interacting with a more than receptive audience. That night, it was easy to see James Blunt as more than just the pretty face behind “You’re Beautiful” and instead as a burgeoning showman; and I can probably speak for everyone at the Gibson Amphitheater and at his shows from around the world when say I can’t wait for his next move.

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