James Bay was halfway through his set at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre when he reminded the audience that he had played the same venue only a few months earlier––opening for Hozier. Sunday was Bay’s turn to headline the Troc, playing to a sold-out crowd in support of his new LP, The Chaos and The Calm. There’s been a whole lot of talk about James Bay recently; many outlets calling him “the next Sam Smith.” The following evening, he attended the prestigious annual gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City––rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jay-Z & Beyoncé, Lady Gaga & Madonna. Evidently, things are working out for him.
Prior to Sunday evening, I hadn’t heard much of James Bay. The 24-year-old is fairly new to the music industry (his first EP was released in 2013), which makes his expeditious rise to fame much more intriguing. Bay wasn’t discovered on YouTube; he wasn’t a tween star on Nickelodeon, and he hasn’t been romantically linked to Taylor Swift. James Bay is finding his success in a different way… the old formula. He isn’t following the average path because James Bay is not your “average pop act.” Absent are the all-too-familiar “shtick” and “high production value;” in the last few years he’s been tapped to open for music legends like The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young. Bay’s musical style features flavors of Blues, Soul, even Country (it was no shock to learn he’d spent time in Nashville recording with Jacquire King of Kings of Leon fame). He is a pop anomaly––a breath of fresh air that will undoubtedly shake up today’s fairly bland pop music scene.
I realized the moment he and his band jumped into his opening song, (“Collide”) that the buzz Mr. Bay has been receiving as of late is warranted. He shreds on guitar and his voice is commanding, with a gritty tone reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen. Bay’s stage presence is magnetic––I found it incredibly difficult to take my eyes away from him. Even if this concert had been held at the behemoth Wells Fargo Center, Bay would have had no problem creating an intimate feel for the audience. Within his encore: a cover of Alicia Keys’ hit, “If I Ain’t Got You.” Covering such a well-known song would seem risky to some, especially with the original being fairly fresh in everyone’s minds. In the case of Sunday night, it was (as you hear in theatre) Bay’s “11:00 number.” With no disrespect to Ms. Keys, he electrified it––adding a guitar solo to the middle of the song while simultaneously riffing on both vocals as well as his instrument (video proof is behind the jump).
I walked into the Troc not knowing anything about James Bay and I walked out a fan.