Three years removed from his last tour, James Bay still remembers how to bring soul to the stage. At the Anthem on Friday, March 8, Bay entertained the crowd with new songs from his 2018 album, “Electric Light,” as well as classics from his 2015 debut album, “Chaos and the Calm.” Playing on a minimalist stage with simple lighting and only a few fog machines, Bay and his backing band let the rock music tell the story.
Noah Kahan, an American singer-songwriter, opened the show. The artist blends folk and pop in a style similar to Bay’s, though a bit more subdued. Kahan, who released his debut EP “Hurt Somebody” January 2018, opened with the contemplative track “Passenger” from his EP and closed the set with his first single, “Young Blood,” an uplifting ballad filled with words of encouragement. Kahan’s songs were honest, and the ease of his set was a contrasting, yet appreciated lead-in to the more energetic style of the main act.
The concert itself was straightforward. Bay came on a simple stage with lights and fog ready to give the audience a good show, wasting little time in between songs so the music could speak for itself. Bay took the stage by storm, opening with the upbeat, fast-paced “Pink Lemonade” from his new album. Bay has clearly shifted from folk to pop in his latest album, but he made sure to display his full range of sounds at the show. After “Pink Lemonade,” he returned to his older music from “Chaos and the Calm” like “Craving,” a clear crowd-pleaser. Bay had a smile on his face the whole time while playing the song, clearly appreciative of the fact that fans still have such a great affection for his debut album.
After switching between new and old records, Bay played four recent songs, including his latest single “Peer Pressure,” to the crowd’s excitement. Bay masterfully controlled the tempo throughout the show, contrasting slower songs like the emotional ballad “Us” with fast-moving electro-hits such as “Wild Love.” The final five songs of the set all came from “Chaos and the Calm.” As the crowd sang along to the well-known hit “Let It Go,” Bay let the audience sing the chorus back to him near the end of the song, completely unaccompanied.
The performer slowed things down even more with the passionate “Move Together.” Bay ended the show, however, on a high note with two of his more catchy rock songs: “Get Out While You Can” and “Best Fake Smile.” The sentiment of these two songs is similar: There is always time to change and find a new direction in life. Performing them back-to-back left the crowd energized and ready to take on the world, as they were jumping up and down, belting along to the choruses.
Bay and his band made a show of stepping off stage, even though the crowd wanted more. In classic fashion, though, he quickly returned to the stage for an encore. Bay kicked off the encore with his new song “Bad.” The track is a heart-wrenching love song that effortlessly conveys the singer’s agony through his stirring vocals and his emotive guitar. To build the crowd’s energy back up, Bay’s band joined him on stage for a cover of the iconic song “Come Together” by The Beatles. Bay stuck to the style of the original, paying tribute to his fellow British artists to the crowd’s delight.
Throughout the show, however, the crowd had been waiting for “Hold Back the River,” one of Bay’s more popular songs, which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2016. As the last song of the night, Bay began playing the song’s opening chord, and the audience went wild. With a smile, he asked everyone to sing along. The sincere song was a fitting end to a spirited show as Bay thanked the crowd before walking out.
While the nostalgia of his debut album remains unmatched, Bay effectively managed to weave his work together throughout the night. Though he could have played for even longer, Bay delivered an entertaining show that beautifully blended his old bluesy sounds with new sounds of pop and electric.