- 01 Mar 20
In advance of Gavin James' 3Arena show, there was a huge feeling of anticipation. On the night, however, even that was exceeded, as the Dubliner delivered a spell-binding performance...
It was Gavin James’ 2014 album Live at Whelan's which launched him to a new level of stardom, nabbing him support slots for Ed Sheeran and Niall Horan. Two studio albums and a billion Spotify streams later, he returns to his home city for a 3Arena gig – and another opportunity to showcase his brilliant showmanship.
Before the main course, though, there’s two appetisers. The first is Dublin based indie-electro outfit Kazms, who made the bill thanks to winning a Today FM ‘Backing Irish Music’ competition to support James. Minutes into their set, it’s obvious why they were chosen. Like the headliner, they boast heart-on-their-sleeve lyrics and anthemic ballads, which start slow and quiet, but erupt into massive choruses (tracks ‘Fragile’ and ‘Kind’ offering the best examples). It’s great to see James using his stardom to support up-and-coming Irish bands. Even better, Kazms receive a hugely enthusiastic response from the crowd.
Next up is Corkonian singer Lyra, putting a modern electro spin on classic chamber pop. Boasting a golden, arena-filling set of pipes that’ll soon see her rival Florence Welch, her biggest tracks to date ‘Falling’ and ‘Emerald’ (which people may know from a popular Guinness ad) sound colossal in the flesh.
The unreleased songs she plays, meanwhile, are equally strong. ‘Lose My Mind’ is artful, melodic 90s dance pop, while the slower-in-tempo ‘Chess’ puts gender imbalance in its crosshairs – delivering a hypnotic melody and catchy chorus in the process. Between Lyra’s fine tunes and her winning stage banter – she refers to James at one point as ‘Ginger Spice’ – it won’t be long before she’s headlining her own 3Arena gig.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Backed by a four-piece band, Gavin James’ first track of the night is a brilliantly energetic, propulsive rendition of ‘Tired’. The sold out 3Arena crowd of 13,000 gets in on the act early, with phone torches held high. Meanwhile, lasers and some brief pyrotechnics signify the spectacle to follow.
Mr. Wigglesworth (Gavin James’ amazing birth-name) is one of those artists who sounds even better live. That’s no criticism of his records: rather, there is something unique and powerful about seeing him in action onstage. During the more stripped-back, naked and vulnerable tracks like anti-bullying ballad ‘22’ or delicate love song ‘Nervous’, there’s an intimacy achieved that’s rare in a big arena. The venue is pin-drop quiet, as the audience leans in to listen intently, everyone feeling personally serenaded by the Dubliner.
There’s another mode to James too: one of cathartic eruptions of sound and big, swelling choruses. In these moments, as crowd participation builds impressively, it is impossible to resist the urge to sing along.
Being played in his home city of Dublin, ‘Coming Home’ feels that extra bit more buoyant, aided by slightly rawer guitars and more immediate vocals. Similarly, the rollicking almost country-sounding ‘Say Hello’ – his first single and a track he hasn’t played in years – is given extra resonance thanks to James’ introduction. “This is the song that brought me from Temple Bar to Whelan’s,” he recounts with genuine pathos. It’s been a long way from there to here.
The 3Arena audience is also treated to three new songs. ‘Fake Love’ is classic James, an anthemic number which could slot nicely onto Only Ticket Home. ‘All Around the World’ is a sweet Elton John-inspired piano ballad. But the standout is ‘Boxes’. Here a funky guitar line anchors an upbeat, empowering, song criticising the type of authority figures who try to kill people’s dreams. “Don’t wake me up,” he sings, “If you’re only going to tell me to give it up… You’re lying through your teeth/ We don’t fit into your boxes/ We’re all different underneath.”
The night culminates in an encore featuring a marvellous solo rendition of ‘The Book of Love’, which highlights James’ incredible vocal range; a powerful performance of the big ballad ‘Always’; and a perfect closer in the explosive crescendo of ‘Only Ticket Home’.
Throughout the gig, James has teased the climax with some well-timed drops of confetti and the odd plume of fire emanating upwards from the stage. During his final track, these erupt together to the power of ten, making for an epic finale. Meanwhile, James himself runs from the stage into the seating area of the crowd to play a few bars of the song – talk about intimacy!
This was the final date of his Only Ticket Home tour: James won’t be playing Dublin again for a few months. In the meantime, fans can take comfort in the memories of last night’s 3Arena show – and the knowledge that more great tunes are coming down the track from him.