WRITTEN BY: ALLY FISHER
Philadelphia has always had an amazing music scene, as so many different artists can now call Philly a second home because of their memorable times playing here. Adding to that list, after an amazing performance at Philly’s newest venue the Fillmore, is English singer-songwriter James Bay.
I had stumbled upon Bay while listening to fellow English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. Their similarities prompted me to listen to Bay’s 2014 EP Let It Go and from there his debut album Chaos and The Calm.
Bay is just one of the many artists that is adding to the British invasion here in the states. He got his start by singing at open mic nights in London, which caught the attention of Republic Records, who signed him later that year. He has been performing at festivals and fashion shows, and now has his very own headlining tour of North America. Bay kicked off his very first tour date right here in Philadelphia.
The Fillmore is located in up-and-coming Fishtown, one of Philly’s cooler sides of town, just across the street from the Sugar House Casino. As soon as you walk inside The Fillmore you are greeted with a giant sign that says ‘LIVE’, an artistic take on Philly’s Love Park statue. Once you are inside the venue there are bars lining the walls and chandeliers that dangle over the stage. The main stage and standing area was bigger than I expected but soon packed as the clock inched closer to Bay taking the stage. The Fillmore overall was a great place to hold a concert, the acoustics were amazing and the staff was extremely nice and helpful with everything.
The lights finally dimmed down and a single spotlight was placed over the keyboard. After a minute of everyone screaming, the opening act stepped on stage. When Frances, a fellow British singer-songwriter, first sat down she introduced herself and mentioned that this was her first time ever in the states. She gave off a kind of quirky vibe at first, but once she opened her mouth and started singing the whole crowd erupted in screams. She went into her second song, a cover of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean,” and once again the crowd erupted. Her sound is similar to that of a more hip Adele. Overall, she sounded amazing and really got the crowd ready for the main act, James Bay.
After a quick set transformation Bay took the stage with lights flashing everywhere and guitar riffs echoing through the venue. The crowd was ecstatic. He opened up with “Collide,” showing off the harder side of Bay. With an instrumental introduction like that one the crowd knew that they were going to be witnessing an amazing show tonight. He kept the energy moving with his next song “Craving,” which shows just how great Bay’s voice really is. The band fed off of Bay’s as well as the crowd’s energy, which brought the cut to life.
Next up was “When We Were On Fire.” As the crowd screamed, the lights slowly shifted from blues and purples to reds and oranges, matching with the name and lyrics to the heavier song. The band got the crowd ready for the transition by easing them into clapping with the beat as Bay played his way into the start of the song. After the song ended Bay formally introduced himself and talked about how he should’ve paid to come to see the crowd. As he stopped talking his words were replaced with the instrumental sounds of “If You Ever Want To Be In Love.” The song went on and the crowd just couldn’t get enough of being part of the show, as some of the final chords came Bay stepped away from the microphone and let the crowd finish the song.
Shifting to slower tempos and a more mellow tone with emotional lyrics was “Need The Sun To Break” and “Running.” Bay’s voice was rawer live than on the album and you could hear the emotion with every lyric that he sang. The lyrics were only enhanced by Bay’s stage presence, which only got the audience even more into the performance. The band was able to show off their impeccable vocal harmonies during these songs, which only added to Bay’s stage presence.
Next, Bay played one of his singles from the album and the name of his second EP, “Let It Go.” This song kept the slow tempo that the crowd was in before, but the energy level increased as the crowd heard the familiar start to the song. The audience sang the lyrics back with such passion that you almost couldn’t hear Bay himself. I found myself belting out the lyrics as well. It is hard not to sing along with him when his lyrics represent so many different people on so many different levels.
Bay kept the tempo slow with “Scars,” which featured his natural raspy voice. With a simple spotlight on Bay the crowd held up their cellphone lights – this was really the first time I even noticed the crowd had their phones out - and swayed back and forth while singing along.
Bay started out the song with just himself playing the electric guitar, but as the second verse came around the whole band kicked in. The band continued their instrumental outro by going right into “Move Together.” Bay held onto his acoustic for this song, once again keeping the soft tempo going. The bands vocal harmonies were noticeable in this song, but they never overpowered Bay’s main vocals.
As the lights went dim you could hear the band start to play upbeat chords of “Best Fake Smile” and the crowd immediately started to scream and dance like crazy. The slick guitar riffs, upbeat tempo, and the catchy lyrics about staying true to who you are was an easy crowd-pleaser.
Bay closed the regular set with another upbeat song, “Get Out While You Can.” The crowd went wild to the upbeat tempo and lyrically compelling anthem about moving onto bigger and better things. The crowd was dancing and going wild until the very end of the set.
Bay and the band quickly walked off stage saying goodbye as the crowd continued to go crazy anticipating Bay’s return. Not even a full five minutes went by before Bay was returning to the stage for the encore. Bay started off his encore with “Incomplete,” a slower tempo getting the crowd to calm down rather quickly. Once again the crowd held their phone lights up as they swayed back and forth. As the song started, you could slowly hear everyone in the audience start to chime in with Bay.
Toward the end of this song, the bands vocal harmonies made an appearance and started to bring the song to a close. Bay stepped away from the microphone once again and told the crowd to sing the last verse, which they proceeded to belt out by singing every word with everything that they had. Bay stepped back up to the microphone to finish the song and after he finished the stage went black.
As everyone prepared themselves for Bay’s next song he slipped in a cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” The crowd quickly caught on to what Bay was singing and joined in with him. It was different to hear a man’s perspective of the lyrics but they were captured perfectly by Bay’s beautiful voice. Bay had his own passionate guitar solo that really made the song his own. As the song came to an end, Bay and the band took a step away from their microphones while looking back at the crowd in awe.
To end his set list, Bay performed another song from his debut album, “Hold Back the River.” The crowd went nuts, like they had been waiting for Bay to play this song all night long.
Bay put all he had into this last song and it really showed, he seemed to feed off of the energy that the crowd was giving him. As the song came to a close, Bay thanked everyone once again for coming out too see the show and that he couldn’t wait to come back again soon. With that, he and his band took their final bow and exited the stage. The audience was still screaming as the lights came on and the stage crew started taking away the instruments.
Sadly, every show has to come to its end, but this show exceeded every expectation that I had for Bay. It was clear from Bay’s stage presence and facial expressions how humbled he was by the Philly crowd and in between songs he would often just look out into the audience and smile.
Bay’s vocals sounded just like they did on the album, but richer and with some character from playing live. His vocals were also more passionate with him playing his guitar, which he never once put down. His guitar playing skills reminded me of John Mayer and his stage presence and interacting with the audience brought the show to life. If you have the chance to ever see Bay live I would highly recommend it.
- When We Were on Fire
- If You Ever Want to Be in Love
- Need the Sun to Break
- Let It Go
- Move Together
- Best Fake Smile
- Get Out While You Can
- If I Ain’t Got You (Alicia Keys cover)
- Hold Back the River