James Blunt - Manchester MEN Arena
He has a point, of course. If you don't like what you hear, move on. Things is, review tickets for gigs are not necessarily guaranteed to end up in the hands of converts and those of us for whom 'Professional' is a middle name don't shirk a challenge. And it IS a challenge, I have to say. The friend who takes the +1 tells me to "loosen up. Just enjoy it." But if you follow that kind of advice through to its logical conclusion, you could end up in all sorts of trouble. If I don't rate the man beforehand, possibilities of conversion seem slim. And so it goes. I'd better stick to the facts, which I'll summarise thus : the stage is prettily lit, the audience is average age 37, the sound is loud and clearly mixed, the atmosphere is good-natured and polite, between-song banter is limited and mumbled, he does that 'rabbits-in-the-headlights' thing all f***ing night (which winds me up a bit), his voice is too far forward in the mix and during the melodrama of 'Goodbye My Lover (performed solo on a little seperate stage) it - the voice - hurts my ears. Also during 'High', where the chorus is pitched beyond the range of his squeak of a voice to manage.
His ascension from Academy to Apollo to Arena provides ample evidence of just how mad for it Manchester is for James Blunt. (Obviously the crowd doesn'tgo mad.) Surprisingly, the floor is unreserved standing rather than seats. There are what you might euphemistically call 'longeurs' during the 90 minute set where a comfy seat would surely have been welcome for many. From the side lower tier seats, the odd pocket of standing die-hards inevitable sit back down during the quiter songs. Of which there are plenty. '1973' sounds like Al Stewart but smells of committee rather than folky charm. An encore of 'You're Beautiful' gets everyone singing. A Slade cover pops up at one point, oddly. But ultimately, Blunt's repertoire is exactly that; not a flinty exception to be seen. 'No Bravery' 'tackles' War and there are images of War projected onto the video screens but some dreadful rhyming around the word 'despair' proves more diverting. Which leaves me to say nothing more than James Blunt live is James Blunt live. Some people (women, largely) scream. Out of enthusiasm rather than terror, it seems, but difficult to prove. Me, I can't get away from that weird facial expression, a mixture of confusion and complex mental illness. What is he feeling ? What does he want to convey ? It's not possible to tell. Maybe nothing at all. James Blunt is product of the proportional representation type. If he stopped recording tomorrow, not one of the best part of 20,000 people here tonight would really be that bothered.