Devlin – review

Underworld, London

A few years ago, the term "grindie" was frequently deployed by certain sections of the music press to describe an unlikely – and, it was suspected, not entirely real – fusion of grime and indie. Tonight, as much-touted Dagenham rapper James Devlin took the stage at Underworld in Camden, a venue best known for its rock tradition, one could be forgiven for thinking grindie had quietly snuck back into existence.

It's not just that Devlin's support is a singer-songwriter named Ed Sheeran, who accompanies his acoustic fumblings by veering ill-advisedly between singing and quasi-rapping, nor that the young audience could be your average indie crowd. Devlin himself, playing with a full band, makes a point of blending rock and rap in both sound and spirit, bringing Eminem's most popular material to mind. His songs are largely driven by a crunching guitar assault, more so than on record, and the cathartic angst and frustration of his lyrics – leavened by a hefty dose of against-the-odds triumphalism – is exactly the kind of thing that disaffected teenagers are drawn unerringly to.

It's skilfully done, despite a few lyrical clangers, but the rock arrangements flatten his songs, and his persona gets predictable. Devlin sticks to his more straightforwardly anthemic material tonight; a crowd request for the older grime cut Shot Gritty is turned down.

It pays off: the enthusiasm of Devlin's following is refreshing, with enough teenage female screaming that he could have been a moonlighting boy-band member. It triples in volume, though, when he brings out Ghetts, Giggs and Tinchy Stryder to guest on Game Over – a magnificent posse cut that revels in the popularity that British urban music has achieved in 2010.


Alex Macpherson

The GuardianTramp

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