For fans of George Ezra, Tuesday night was somewhat like a homecoming.
The 25-year-old Englishman from Hertfordshire — with the inexplicable soul of a 60-year-old bluesman — likes to pepper his concert with lengthy anecdotes and while you’re probably familiar with some of them by now, it’s impossible to not inch closer to his disarming warmth.
When he speaks, whether it’s about that time he decided to travel to a new city and stay with a “stranger from the internet” (‘Staying at Tamara’s’), or how he came up with the idea for a song when throwing up on a bus (‘Paradise’), or how he never made it to ‘Budapest’ because he missed his train after “buying a bottle of rum from a man at a park”, it’s easy to forget you’re in a packed auditorium on Shaikh Zayed Road, and not at your friend’s house, singing along as he strums the guitar for you.
Like that meme that reminds Mark Ruffalo that he’s a big movie star too, Ezra probably needs pointing out that he’s the star of the night.
His face lights up every time the audience sings along (which is every single track), almost disbelieving of his own popularity. It’s charming and infuriating at the same time, and he makes it a point to cheer for his fans — mostly teenage girls and starry-eyed older women — at the end of every track.
He didn’t waste any time either. Unlike the city he was playing in, Ezra isn’t one for tardiness, bounding on to the stage at sharp 9pm, the time advertised for the beginning of the show, and he launches right into ‘Don’t Matter Now’, the summer-infused anthem that looks anxiety right in the eye and says, “Well, it won’t last and it won’t stand”.
It’s a one-two punch because he follows it up with the next song on his new album ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ — ‘Get Away’ — all about letting yourself dream, and where he’s telling himself as much as he’s telling the rest of us, “You better get away”.
He takes us to and from his two albums — 2014’s surprise hit ‘Wanted On A Voyage’, an album that saw him become the year’s biggest-selling musician, only behind Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, and last year’s ‘Staying At Tamara’s’. He goes from ‘Listen to the Man’ (the adorable music video for which featured the unmatched Sir Ian McKellen) to ‘Paradise’, from the track from yore he’s yet to name but is still “affectionately known as Song No 6” to his South African trip song ‘Sugarcoat’. He dispenses each song with a story and a knockout smile, supplemented by the brass tones and guitar licks of his accompanying band. Hearts fluttered, wispy sighs floated to the ceiling.
If you’d earlier though of Ezra’s music as cheery, background music, this concert is a good reminder that easygoing music is not equal to easy or uncomplicated music. It would also be easy for Ezra to rely on his buoyant baritone alone, a voice that could make the metro announcements sound like Shakespeare, but he rarely relies on his singing talent alone; the wafer-thin lyrics from 2014 have evolved to a winsome maturity in 2019.
Whether it’s ‘Pretty Shining People’ (“What a terrible time to be alive/If you’re prone to overthinking), or the unexpected darkness and poignancy of ‘Hold My Girl’ (“Crowded town or silent bed/Pick a place to rest your head”), Ezra is not afraid to introspect.
Twelve songs in at the concert, which took place at the World Trade Centre, Ezra steps in to inform you that “you’re all warmed up” and it’s time to join him for a “bit of a dance”, and you know it’s time for the big guns to come out. And there it is — the familiar country blues of ‘Blame It On Me’, and the crowd bellows it right back at home, feet off the ground and fists punching at the air.
And then for the piece de resistance — a song everyone had on their minds since he stepped on stage — ‘Budapest’, a song that’s about everything but the Hungarian capital and a song that made him a star outside England. Thought you liked ‘Budapest’ before? Try it with it soaring trumpet solos and cheeky keyboard notes, and you’ll fall in love all over again.
But it doesn’t end here, of course. As he runs off the stage, we wait patiently for him to return for the encore. We’re expecting at least two more tracks, but he leaves us with one final hurrah — ‘Shotgun’, the biggest 2018 summer hit of the UK, with an impossibly infectious chorus and long after he and his six-piece band leave the stage, the lyrics thrum in our ears: “Time flies by in the yellow and green/Stick around and you’ll see what I mean”.
And boy, we’re glad we stuck around.