George Ezra, Royal Albert Hall review - a thumping good time
The affable young singer from the Home Counties is in a party mood
"The reason why it's so special to be here," says Ezra halfway through the show, "is because this is where I saw so many of my heroes". Tonight is the 26-year-old's debut at the Royal Albert Hall and the look on Ezra's face says he can't quite believe where he's standing. He holds his hands up with a shrug, stares out at the crowd, and smiles a Cheshire Cat grin.
This has been a huge year for the unassuming young man from Hertfordshire. It's seen the end of a journey from unlikely pop star (the comedian Jack Whitehall once called him the "Milky Bar Kid all grown up") to bonafide musical phenomenon. His album Staying at Tamara's (2018) went triple platinum, and his Glastonbury performance was a triumph. Tonight is the end of the tour and there's plenty to celebrate.
As he walks on, Ezra looks around at the stage which has been turned into a lounge, complete with rugs and a gramophone. Other artists may strive to set themselves apart from the audience, but not George. The set-up tonight is decidedly cosy and intimate. Even the stage is positioned closer than normal to the audience, which this evening is well-represented by teenage girls and their mums.
The show kicks off with the soulful "Don't Matter Now". Guitars chug and horns blast while the singer's massive baritone thunders out across the venue. Ezra stands at the front of the stage, dressed in a red shirt and jeans, with his seven-piece band positioned behind. Four back-to-back phones-in-the-air singalongs follow, but somehow they seem a little less cheesy than usual. Maybe it's the occasion, or possibly it's the cleverly tweaked arrangements - the woozy slide guitar on "Barcelona" or the ska rhythms of "Listen to the Man".
It's not until Ezra starts to explore the folk and blues songs from his first album that things become a little more sombre. "Did You Hear the Rain?" sees him taking on the mantle of a mournful Mississippi bluesman. "Song 6", by contrast, has a delicately-picked guitar and a sweet, Paolo Nutini-style melody.
But tonight isn't about Ezra's reflective moods. It is, as he frequently reminds us, a celebration (and also charity event, with proceeds going to the mental health charity Mind). It's never long before the up-tempo songs return. Highlights from the second half include "All My Love" which features duelling horn players, and a barnstorming "Blame It on Me" where Ezra treats us to some Elvis moves. As soon as the opening notes of "Budapest" are struck the whole room jumps to their feet.
The band's energy seems to have reached a peak. But for the final song of the night they manage yet another gear. It is of course "Shotgun", and it's every bit as silly and enjoyable as everyone is hoping for. As the audience sings along with "Bikini bottoms, lager tops, I could get used to this" I overhear someone give his take on the evening: "George Ezra may not be deep and meaningful, but he sure knows how to have a good time." Amen to that.