James Morrison - Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
As the fortunes of TV's favourite (?) talent show continue to dwindle, an unassuming yet eye-opening gig from James Morrison asserts that this 'X factor' thing everyone's chasing - or claims to be in possession of - boils down to one simple thing: talent. No, Morrison will unlikely win over the rock fans who admire his iconic namesake, nor will all soul purists ever consider him more than a footnote in a history defined by Morrison's own influences (Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, etc.). However, give the man his due: he's got lungs, he employs them with gusto for an hour and a half, and he never puts down his guitar. It was nice to know you for a short while there Matt Cardle, but the vacancy's already been filled...
Most of tonight's setlist is cribbed from Morrison's latest venture, third album The Awakening. Kicking off with 'Beautiful Life', an up-tempo celebration that directly acknowledges Morrison's own admission that his second album contained too many ballads, Morrison proceeds to deliver 'In My Dreams' and '6 Weeks', new songs that show a marked maturity and are performed with genuine energy and soul. Yep, despite being at the forefront of a standard soul band setup (obligatory female backing singers, a character on keys, backing guitarist, drummer, et al), Morrison's voice doesn't hide behind the layers and his grizzled voice and his knack for songwriting shine through. The appearance of latest weepie 'I Won't Let You Go' reminds us that Morrison still plays to his 'first dance' strengths a little too often, but at least it's sincere - and, to be fair, this audience has after all paid to hear those slowies.
In his quiet quest for greater credibility, Morrison has shed some of his biggest hits: tonight, there is no 'Undiscovered', no 'The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore', no 'You Make It Real' (yes, some couples went home saddened not to hear 'their' special song). However, the only false note is 'Up', an overwrought duet originally sung with Jessie J whose part is re-enacted here by a backing singer but, despite her decent voice, one that can't save it from feeling a little stagey; an acoustic 'Broken Strings', met with perhaps the biggest reaction of the night, sees Morrison himself cover Nelly Furtado's vocal to much better effect. Highlights include the Wonder-ous groove of 'Slave to the Music' and rousing new anthem 'One Life', while the people buying posters outside after the gig belt out every word to 'You Give Me Something' and set closer 'Wonderful World'. Although it's not the highlight of this week's gig calendar (that'll be Tori Amos this weekend), I leave the gig with a newfound respect for this guy and faith that, whatever happens with Simon Cowell's cash cow, there's always an unassuming bloke with a guitar and a pretty amazing voice waiting to do it Morrison's way.
Beautiful Life / In My Dreams / 6 Weeks / I Won't Let You Go / Precious Love / Broken Strings / Up / Person I Should Have Been / Nothing Ever Hurt Like You/Go-Go / Slave to the Music / Forever / One Life / You Give Me Something / / The Awakening / Under the Influence / Wonderful World