British singer-songwriter James Arthur released his third studio album You in October 2019. In support of the album, he headlined The O2 in London earlier this month, as part of the UK leg of this 2020 arena tour.
Since winning the X Factor in 2012, the Middlesborough-born troubadour has played some of the biggest stages in the world with chart-toppers like “Say You Won’t Let Go”, “Falling Like The Stars” and “Empty Space”, among others.
For his London headline show, the crowd applauded as he walked on stage flanked by a four-piece band and he kicked things off with the title song “You” off his new album, before a swift transition into the trio of songs, “I Am”, “Sermon”, and “Finally Feel Good”.
From the first notes, he is infectious, he performs with conviction, and his voice is powerful with a magnificent range. He underplays the amount of star power and credibility had has accumulated over the few years and has a humble and authentic presence on stage.
He engaged with his audience, forming a connection by taking breaks to explain the backstory behind several of his songs. He spoke candidly about his battle with his mental health, declaring “to be vulnerable is courage. Take that away with you”.
His emotional centre lies within the cracks of insecurity and his songs strike emotional chords with his fans. Slow and powerful ballads and more upbeat tracks form the general template of the show, with a level of contrast woven throughout the setlist.
His setlist included popular hits like “Naked”, where he was able to showcase his capable voice. Very well executed song and the nuances and the power of it all impressed. He performed “Empty Space”, the second single of his new album and as the track continued so did his intensity, with his passion appearing to double.
“Sermon” starts as a ballad that flows into a hip-hop track, allowing him to show his rhyming skills. “Sermon” and “Rewrite The Stars” got the audience out of their seats and dancing to the beat.
All of his songs flowed seamlessly into the next. For almost every song, the crowd knew every word. It is the sort of gig where you could measure the impact that a song has by the number of phones in the air. As “Quite Miss Home” played, the lights on people’s phones lit up The O2, a stunning sight.
He briefly left the stage to return for the encore that was “Sun Comes Up” and ended the night with mega-hit, “Say You Won’t Let Go” where the entire crowd of 20000 people sang along.
Overall, he exceeded all expectation. Along with the more up-beat moments of the night, Arthur also allowed for moments of reflection and appreciation of his musicianship and it was elevated by his band that injects vitality into the music.
What stood out was the incredible authenticity and passion he performs with. No need for an impressive production, even for The O2, as his voice is his biggest selling point.
You, I Am, Sermon, Finally Feel Good, Rewrite The Stars (Benj Pasek & Justin Paul Cover), Breathe, Falling Like the Stars, Empty Space, Unconditionally, Naked, Quite Miss Home, Recovery, You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You, Cry Me a River, Homicide Love, Treehouse, Can I Be Him, Maybe, Impossible (Shontelle Cover), Sun Comes Up (Rudimental Cover), Say You Won’t Let Go
Words by Marianne Brits-Strodl