British singer-songwriter James Bay hit the stage of The Fillmore Nov. 13 wearing his signature fedora, ready to take on the vibrant Philadelphia audience. Bay had something to prove on the first night of his North American tour following the release of his debut album, “Chaos and the Calm.” Performing at The Fillmore is an impressive jump from his show at the Trocadero Theatre last May.
His set began with an amped up version of “Collide” that instantly revived the audience after the melancholy yet stunning performance of his opener, fellow singer-songwriter Frances. Bay has an impressive capability to energize the audience with his upbeat tunes while also being able to play softer, more solemn songs that still manage to move the crowd. This dynamic was evident in his performance of the soulful “Scars” as he started out with an emotional, dimly lit act, which then transformed into a spirited and lively experience as the band kicked in and Bay stomped around the stage.
Bay’s stage presence is nothing short of extraordinary, a combination of confidence and passion. He recognizes the relationship with his audience, shouting between lyrics, “C’mon Philly!” and, “Let me see your hands!” to stimulate the crowd. The energy in the room was palpable as he worked on the mutual exchange between himself and the audience, even telling the crowd he would “pay to watch them.”
He enticed the teenage girls glued to the barricade by working his way to the edge of the stage and passionately yelling the lyrics into the crowd. At moments he stepped back to let the audience sing, nodding his head in approval as the crowd devotedly shouted the lyrics back to him.
“Chaos and The Calm” is largely centered around struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship and other life changes. This content contributes to many of Bay’s emotional lyrics. Tears were shed as he performed the heartbroken tunes and especially when Bay dedicated “Move Together” to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. Before starting the song he explained, “Some crazy, crazy shit has been happening in Paris, so this next one is for everyone down there who’s in some trouble,” before beginning the heartfelt tune.
Bay has an evident handle on the guitar as he broke out in solos that greatly added to the performance of each song. He exhibited his skill that is not so apparently evident on the album as he switches between the acoustic and electric guitar. He has an almost John Mayer-like approach to some of his songs—starting off with a guitar solo detached from the chords and rhythm of the song. He did this with one of his most popular tunes, “Let it Go.” During his brilliant cover of Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” he broke off into a long and complex guitar solo that escalated into Bay finishing the song on his knees.
Bay’s impressive vocals make each song sound even better than it does on the album and completely justify the need to see him live. He adds grit and vigor to each line while staying completely charming as you can catch him smiling between lyrics. The crowd roared as he finishes his set with his biggest hit, “Hold Back the River.” The atmosphere is intense and lively as the stage lights flash around and Bay took a grateful last bow with his band mates to thank the crowd of Philadelphia.