Let’s call these years the era of the ingenue. While, there have always been youthful prodigies throughout the history of rock music, a very clear trend has popped up over the past little while, and that’s the rise of younger singer-songwriters taking the reins of their project. New Zealand’s Lorde can be considered the progenitor of this recent spate of fresh blooded solo acts, which include local acts Scott Helman and Alessia Cara.
Two other rising stars of this movement are UK acts George Ezra and James Bay, both of whom have huge success over the past year and recently brought their hits here to Toronto when they played the new Sherbourne Common venue on the city’s waterfront.
Opening for them were fellow Brits Coasts, who sound like a British version of our own Young Empires. A little emotive alt-rock crossed with a little new-wave revival and a dash of pop hooks made this set an enjoyable one.
George Ezra and his rich baritone voice were on stage next. Although he’s best known for his folk stylings, he draws inspiration from several wells, including danceable funk-pop and hard blues rock. It’s definitely not too far of a stretch to say that at times he evokes heavy Vedder vibes, particularly on the billowy “Song 6”. There were no Pearl Jam covers in this set, but Ezra did play his uptempo version of the 2001 Macy Gray hit “I Try”. One major highlight was the song “Spectacular Rival”, the closer from his album Wanted on Voyage. Listening to his upbeat radio singles and amicable stage banter you wouldn’t expect a dark number like this, but it proves that the singer’s got a vast palette of emotions to motivate him.
Closing the night was fellow wunderkind James Bay (no relation to the Canadian body of water), who dabbles heavily in the Springsteen playbook while keeping one foot firmly planted in pop. With his iconic wide-brimmed hat he tore into tracks from his latest album Chaos and the Calm, including “Craving” and “Let it Go”. Mixed in with the surging rockers were potential pop crossover songs like “If You Ever Want To Be In Love”, but it’s clear that Bay is passionately influenced by American folk-rock, right down to the fact that his British accent vanishes while singing. Finishing the set with his current hit “Hold Back the River”, he displayed clear ambition to be a future superstar. Considering how much he’s achieved already at his age, that path is wide open for him.