WINDY CITY TIMES
||BENT NIGHTS George Ezra holds concert at UIC Pavilion
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester
This article shared 2691 times since Tue Jan 27, 2015
Regardless of how her career evolves from here on out, Adele will go down in history for bringing back the power of singing as a pure art form. Forget neo-soul, the annual flood of talented new faces ( who have a tendency to trill to distraction ) or the fusion of genres, Adele has put the emphasis back on great songs and vocal interpretations. Hot on her satin heels we've already had out shooting star Sam Smith and now, in his wake, we have one George Ezra. The three of them have an awful lot in common, although what they bring to the table is entirely different.
Never mind that like Adele, Smith and Ezra are Brits who embrace purely American forms of music ( Adele and Smith are into hard-boiled soul while Ezra's alternative pop has a western/swing flavor ) or that their breakout CDs have all hit worldwide on a huge scale with little hype. Or, for that matter, that all three of them are still in their twenties but routinely get described as having voices and music that sounds "beyond their years."
It says somethingthough I don't know whatthat these "youngsters" from another country are taking our genres and turning them into something seemingly new and fresh while snatching up truckloads of Oscars, Grammys and platinum platters in the process. The truth, of course, as that the three of them demand attention because they have taken popular music right back to its purpose; to bring pleasure.
Ezra makes acoustic guitar-driven pop designed to showcase his deep, resonant voice and elaborate lyrics, and to hear him is to be seduced by the beauty of the English language. Hearing him tumble, toy with, and gift wrap syllables on his hit "Budapest" is a hoot and he does it so smoothly that he comes across like a seasoned magician. That song and the damnably catchy "Blame It On Me" are deceptively easy on the ears, until you actually try to sing along. The lack of ornamental sonic fuss and that leisurely guitar-driven swing make Wanted on Voyage feel like ear candy, but a hard corker like "Cassy O" takes what sounds clever and turns it into something with a much stronger propulsion.
"Did You Hear the Rain?" is even better, and the recording sounds like a great lost spooky Buck Owens stomper wrapped in a sinister aura of doom. But with all of that going on, Ezra throws in a wild card; a habit of flipping his profoundly earthbound voice into a pristine falsetto without warning. The effect is like getting tickled at an unexpected time in an unexpected spot on your body.
Although Ezra looks like a pleasant, apple-cheeked, sweet young man, and he sings with an embraceable sincerity, his videos feature a subversive humor that actually adds to his music. The clip for "Blame It On Me" has him in pursuit of the Yellow Brick Road, while barely surviving a multitude of calamities that would have sent Dorothy and that mangy dog running for cover. The bouncy and altogether sunny "Listen to the Man" gets a scene-stealing assist from Sir Ian McKellen and literally turns the song on its head. Then there is the video for "Cassy O," which features screaming harpies, sex dolls, bedroom frolics, used condoms and an ongoing cat fight. The punchline of all of them is Ezra himself, blithely singing away with perfect enunciation and a straight face.
Wanted on Voyage is lots of fun to listen to ( and the videos are even more fun to watch ) and it feels like too much of a good thing: intelligent, polished, engaging, addictive alternative pop with a touch of subversion. The debut is such a delight that it was a shame that Ezra found himself in the unenviable position of being Smith's opener at the massive and hollow UIC Pavilion in front of an SRO crowd Jan. 23. The space was so massive that it gave Ezra a new challenge: His rich baritone and wordy songcraft and melodies were literally swallowed up in the abyss.
Although the capacity crowd was clearly on his side ( the fans at the front of the house kept screaming at the top of their lungs, "YOU ARE SO CUTE!!!!" ) much of what makes Wanted on Voyage such a delight ( the details of the lyrics, the articulate arrangements, the nuances of Ezra's voice, and even his facial expressions ) were muffled and dulled. What was sharp, crisp, and charming was telegraphed through the venue's sound system as unrefined and muddy. "Listen to the Man" and "Barcelona" didn't have a prayer of connecting, but "Cassy O" with its edge, and "Blame It On Me," with its driven melody and mind bending hook made up for that, though the effect was like getting hit in the chops with a sock stuffed with wet sand.
The biggest insult was that Ezra's set felt curtailed not only by the Pavilion but a 30-minute set limit. That set limit and space did not give him much of a chance to stretch out, create momentum or build a rapport with his audience, which is a bummer since George Ezra on stage projects a certain comfort and engagement that are not only warm, friendly and humorous, but makes you want to spend an entire evening with him. Hopefully, all of these quibbles will be corrected when he comes back for his third jaunt to Chicago ( the second being his Feb. 25 opening slot for Hozier ) for his headlining gig at the more intimate Metro on March 30.
This article shared 2691 times since Tue Jan 27, 2015
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