When Jamie Treays made his triumphant live comeback at Glastonbury in June after a five-year absence he, somewhat misanthropically, thanked a packed John Peel tent by pronouncing that he “couldn’t give a fuck” if anyone comes to see him any more. “I’d play to an empty room,” he said. “I don’t care.”
There’s not much chance of that happening anytime soon. Every date on the 36-year-old’s upcoming UK tour – in support of his fifth album and first No 1, The Theory of Whatever – is sold out. Next summer, the Londoner will play his biggest headline show at the 45,000 capacity Finsbury Park. Not bad for a singer-songwriter whose well-documented struggles with anxiety (Treays’ 2007 Mercury prize nominated debut was titled Panic Prevention) have caused him to disappear for long spells and generally seek the harsh light of exposure with all the enthusiasm of an expensive mushroom.
Wearing a black baseball cap, baggy shirt and snaggle-toothed grin, Treays is greeted tonight like he’s never been gone. Opener 90s Cars rolls to a wobbly, melodic bassline worthy of Peter Hook and ghostly echoes of Big Star’s Kangaroo; another new song, The Old Style Raiders, unleashes a huge chorus unusually heavy on hope. So Lonely Was the Ballad takes us “way back” to 2007 and a time when this crumpled mix of punk, hip-hop, electronica and idiosyncratic speak-sung half-rap, felt fresh and exciting, if by no means certain to transcend the morass of post-Streets geezah-prophets that also brought us Just Jack and the Twang.
Finding depth in Treays’ songs of lost love, punch-ups, emotional pain and cocaine isn’t always easy, but to hear him on a happily raucous tear at the head of a four-piece band is to find the one-time boy wonder in perhaps his purest essence: a vessel of neither profound social commentary nor empty-headed tonic for the lager lads, but a deep well of crookedly life-affirming indie-rock imbued with vulnerability, danger, romantic fatalism and joy. You’d defy teenagers to write a punk-pop firecracker with the purity of A Million & One New Ways to Die.
And Treays remains surely the only man in show business who can send an audience into fist-pumping raptures with the rattly twang of an acoustic bass guitar, accompaniment to his original solo show-stopper Back In The Game. The beer-soaked, John Betjeman-sampling tragi-drama Sheila incites scenes of such reckless abandon that guitarist Chris Woodhead ends up with someone’s bra wrapped around his face. A hurtling Sticks‘N’Stones crunches bones in the mosh pit.
And there’s no more appropriate analogy for Treays’ thrillingly unsteady high-wire act than the uncomfortably long pause he leaves hanging in the humid air after the intro of Zombie. Roars and stamping dissolve into a faint chorus of boos and back again, before the chorus finally drops and merry bedlam erupts.