10/31/14 – Paradise Rock Club

Under the shadow of a black brimmed hat was a face, half-covered with white paint, long dark hair tucked behind the ears. A smattering of similar Dia-de-los-Muertos-style decorated faces dotted the crowd in celebration of this drafty Halloween night.

The painted skull, like the skin-tight skater-style jeans, accentuated the skeletal build of James Bay as he stood tall onstage. His falsetto faded to an almost-whisper for some of the higher notes in “Let It Go” (no, not the Frozen song) and the twang of his guitar echoed with every note.

At 23, Bay’s name has popped up throughout the music world—“Let It Go” was iTunes single of the week, he performed for Burberry, and he snagged an opening slot for Kodaline and The Rolling Stones. He’s not exactly an unknown name, and for good reason. He’s certainly got talent—he showed off his pipes with “Running,” building to a soaring “whenever we go” that earned a number of well-deserved whoops from the crowd.

Yet while Bay’s voice stayed strong, his confidence sometimes wavered. With comments like “You still with me?” and an ending “I hope I see you again!” it felt like Bay didn’t realize his sound was quite a good match for the headlining Hozier.

Perhaps this was why his stage banter still wasn’t quite there. His introduction to “Scars” surely caused English teachers to cringe. The classic “show don’t tell” phrase practically rang in my ears as he stamped his story with a label of sincerity before he even began. “I’m about to tell the most sincere story with my face half painted. But fuck it, we’re in Boston!” Expecting intimate details, we instead heard the Brit tell a generic tale of a girl who moved away to the US. “I was bummed out about the whole thing,” he admitted. “And then one day, as the story goes, she turned up.” Bummed out? Sounds like the understatement of the year.

During the set, the other musician onstage came and went. Though at times adding a tambourine beat or piano strokes essential to the tune, it felt like he was a ghost, unnoticed. With only two songs left in the set, Bay burst out, “Oh I forgot to introduce you to Gerard!”

Sure, forgetting bandmates and nervous banter means this wasn’t an ace performance. But Bay hasn’t even lived for a quarter of a century; there’s time to get comfortable and learn a crowd-pleasing trick or two. Regardless, it’s certain that Bay left the crowd at Paradise with fresh tracks for their playlists and a new act to buzz about.

Painted Faces & Fantastic Pipes: James Bay
  • A voice that could live up to the task of opening for Hozier
  • Didn't use the predictable "save the hit for last" tactic
  • Sometimes faded out on the higher notes
  • Stage banter needs a bit of work
7.7Overall Score

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