George Ezra review – gauche but charming lyrics to take you away from it all

O2 Academy, Newcastle
The slightly long-winded storyteller performs his infectious hits to teens and their mums but he is at his best when shining a light on darker matters

Before he gets going, George Ezra takes a moment to explain his stock in trade: tunefully dreamy songs which “take you away to wherever you want to go to”. With the world currently in turmoil, this tempting offer of a trip away from it all has not unsurprisingly landed him No 1s with both his albums. Wanted on Voyage was 2014’s third biggest-selling album by a solo artist (behind only Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith), while Staying at Tamara’s is this year’s bestselling new album and spawned the song of the summer, Shotgun, wherein the 25-year-old bravely but winningly rhymes “homegrown alligator” with “see you later”.

Almost illegally catchy ... George Ezra.
Almost illegally catchy ... George Ezra. Photograph: David Wala

Ezra’s background in the killing fields of Hertfordshire can’t exactly compete with that of an impoverished Mississippi bluesman, but behind the fresh-faced, squeaky clean ordinary-chap-made-good image lies passion and resourcefulness. The son of two teachers, Ezra arrived in pop after he enrolled on a songwriting course. He landed a record deal within a year, and after packing out medium-sized venues like this he will step up to arenas next year. His music filters his love of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie through to more recent touchstones such as Jake Bugg, and he delivers gauche but charming lyrics about holidays and Interrailing and a steady stream of epic choruses in his ebullient baritone.

The crowd – mostly teenage girls and their mums – adore him, and phones-aloft sing-alongs start early. His triumph may seem one of relentless, potentially irritating positivity, but he is at his best when shining great beams of sunlight on a darker situation. Thus, Pretty Shining People muses, “what a terrible time to be alive if you’re prone to overthinking”, possibly alludes to Brexit (“an island in an ocean full of change”) and charges into a brass-powered chorus so uplifting it makes REM’s Shiny Happy People sound like Chopin’s Funeral March. Song 6 is more moody, although it does not engage the audience as much as his more chipper hits.

Still, between them, he makes a fine if slightly long-winded storyteller. He explains how his career had started to unravel before he “found a stranger on the internet”, and ended up staying at her Airbnb in Barcelona to work on songs (hence the title Staying at Tamara’s), how he came up with the idea for recent smash Paradise while vomiting on the tour bus, and that the similarly infectious Budapest was not inspired by the Hungarian capital – he was meant to go there while Interrailing, but everything went pear-shaped after he “bought a bottle of rum off a man in a park”. There is a slight sense that the lengthy anecdotes helpfully disguise the occasional lulls in the setlist before the steady arrival of the bangers.

Still, as a room full of smiling people hug each other to bellow along with Blame It on Me, the softly rockabilly Cassy O’ and the almost illegally catchy Shotgun, the world does not seem such a bad place after all.

• At Liverpool University, tonight, Bonus Arena, Hull (Sat 10) and SSE Arena, Wembley, London (Thur 15). Details georgeezra.com

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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