Live Review: Kodaline with Gavin James at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 23rd April 2015

By on Monday, 27th April 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

It’s always nice to see a band you’ve been supporting since their humble beginnings, when barely anyone knew they were, playing to a massive and loudly and vocally supportive crowd in your hometown. This is exactly what happened last Thursday night when Kodaline came to Washington for their third visit to our city, playing at their largest venue in DC to date, the venerated 9:30 Club. Their opener for their current North American campaign is Gavin James, who I saw play before Kodaline Friday at the Great Escape 2013 at an afternoon showcase at Audio (now reopened and rebranded as Patterns), sponsored by Music from Ireland.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how Gavin James was going to go down with American crowds, seeing that he’s not exactly a household name here like Kodaline is. However, I should have just gone off what transpired when Snow Patrol made the fateful decision to bring their new friend Ed Sheeran on their spring North American tour in 2012. (We all know what happened after that…) Based on the screams of delight that nearly rivalled those received by Kodaline themselves, I’d reckon James has a very good shot of doing well here in the States. His heartfelt, tear-jerky songwriting and soaring voice were well received by the overwhelming female audience, as was his self-deprecating humour. He apologised for his Irish accent, “You probably won’t understand what I say. I’m like an Irish leprechaun Speedy Gonzales.”

Though Speedy wears a cute yellow sombrero, he’s got nothing on Gavin James. In set opener ‘For You’, he channelled the abject loneliness within an ending relationship. A childhood flame is remembered fondly in ‘Remember Me’, and James displays the full emotion of remembering what seemed like a perfect love when young and innocent when the track is performed live. For ‘Coming Home’, he enlisted crowd assistance for additional voices, which punters were only too eager to provide. The ginger singer/songwriter also took the chance of taking his guitar into the crowd on the floor at 9:30 to play a song; mobile phones from seemingly all over snapped photos and shot video of James performing, further endearing him to the punters. All in all, it was an excellent and memorable debut in Washington for an artist from abroad.

Generally, I don’t agree with bands touring a new album straight after its release. It doesn’t give fans enough time to sit and listen to the album carefully, which leads the sing-alongs (if you’re a sing-along type of band, anyway) to fall flat. Why purposely give yourself an uphill battle? Kodaline’s spring 2015 North American tour did exactly this, starting over the pond here the week ‘Coming Up for Air’ (my review here) dropped on our continent, but I guess the argument could be made that for the February release of the UK version, British fans were only given a week to learn the new album before that tour started too.

The reason I bring this up: while the deafening reception to the songs off their 2013 debut ‘In a Perfect World’ (my review here) made total sense, only the early singles from ‘Coming Up for Air’ has similar but surely less manic responses, which is a shame because I actually liked the second album better than their first, and its songs deserved a better response. New album track ‘Ready’, which would have been my choice of single over ‘The One’, kickstarted their energetic set, but one has to wonder if it had been placed further down the set list, would it really have gotten the same response? To be fair, ‘The One’ has personal significance to the band, with frontman Steve Garrigan explaining dryly that it was dedicated to their married friend Phil and Fiona, whose wedding they attended and “forgot” to bring a wedding present to, so they were ‘forced’ to come up with a song for the occasion.

‘Unclear’, which on record is punctuated by a beautiful children’s choir, didn’t have the same impact live without it; conversely, the brasher, guitar squealing ‘Play the Game’, imploring us to “dream bigger!”, is tailor made for a larger-scale production Kodaline are overseeing on this tour, which is seeing them play venues at least 2 times bigger than their last tour in winter 2014, during which they played our U Street Music Hall. And about the production values: with a pretty spectacular light display onstage, you can see how if the Irish band play their cards right, they’re set up to play and wow crowds at stadiums. As the t-shirt hanging above the merch table reads, “I’m ready for it all”, Kodaline seem poised to do just that.

However, somewhat disappointingly to me, it was left to the hits from ‘In a Perfect World’ to really send fans into a frenzy. ‘High Hopes’, with Garrigan stood not sat in front of his piano, was so well received, punters’ voices singing in the club in unison so loudly, half the time Garrigan didn’t need to sing the lead vocal. Predictably, ‘All I Want’ ended the night on a high note, but in an interesting turn of events, Garrigan invited Gavin James back onstage to share lead vocal duties on the song, thus introducing a nice change from the live version we’ve come to know after the last 2 years. Time will tell how well ‘Coming Up for Air’ will age compared to ‘In a Perfect World’, but at the moment, their live performance hits all the right notes for their devoted fan base.

After the cut: Kodaline’s set list.

Kodaline Set List:
Ready
Love Like This
Way Back When
Unclear
One Day
Lost
High Hopes
Coming Alive
The One
All Comes Down
Play the Game
Brand New Day
Love Will Set You Free
//
Honest
Big Bad World
All I Want

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