Anthony Hamilton at indigO2, London | Live Review

Many people predicted a couple of years ago with the advent of illegal file sharing and platforms like Napster that musicians would have to start being packaged differently. The whole music industry was (and still is to some extent) experiencing a paradigm shift. Artists were coming to terms that you simply cannot exist by merely releasing CDs made in the safe haven of a studio, where the best sound engineers tweaked and touched the record until you sounded perfect. If you wanted to start making money, you had to hit the road.

Prince caught on early and based his comeback on this idea and subsequently was the highest earning musician in 2008, without a big selling album. Many artists who use to rely on back catalogue sales came out to play (Sade, and more cynically D’Angelo). Ultimately, for the most part, this meant that musicians that can tour or have the talent to entertain a crowd will have a prolonged career. This meant more Eric Roberson and less Ashley Simpson. Even recently, when we were force fed the second coming in the shape of Lana Del Rey, how damaging was that weak performance on SNL to her career? Very much, I would argue. Make no mistake, live performances mean a whole lot more today than, say, a decade ago.

Which brings us to one of the true beneficiaries of this current trend of touring musicians – Anthony Hamilton. You see, real musicians benefit when today’s YouTube and Twitter generation are watching your every move. If you are good live, people will talk about you. So he took his Back To Love tour and brought it to London on Friday (April 20) to face the phone cameras. And boy did he face them.

Sporting a light blue suede blazer and trademark hat – and backed by full band that were so dapper frankly they looked like they were a cross between Nation of Islam and Mad Men cast members] – he opened the show with a cut of his new album ‘Sucka For You’ with a certain confidence that only a man with this level of talent can bring. Being of the more diminutive stature wasn’t going to stop him from rightly commanding the stage shared with a much taller backing band.

One of the qualities that made a soul singer with no big radio hits or press to fill the Indigo at the o2 centre is the sense that he is a humble man with considerable talent. He only enhances this view with this performance. Between songs, the North Carolina native brought out his considerable southern charm to woo his audience, and wooed they were.

When he performed a medley of songs from his first two albums, the audience seemed to have forgotten they were at soul concert and were very animated. It was no accident that the concert purposely avoided dwelling on ballads. His inspiration seems to have been lovingly lifted from one his heroes – Al Green. The energetic, well dressed backing band screamed of a ’70s Al Green performance.

The crowd, as a whole, was as diverse as they come with an interesting mix of older and younger folk. And the savvy Mr Hamilton catered for them all. Whether it’s the powerful performance of his best song to date, ‘Charlene’ or the rather jovial and exciting rendition of Jay Z’s ‘Empire State Of Mind’ with the lyrics changed to London instead of New York [by the way, I really hope he is not employing this tactic everywhere he performs, it just won’t ring true in places like Bognor or the Shetland Islands]. Nonetheless, you simply get the sense that his main aim was to have fun at these shows and this truly emanates to the crowd.

If you are looking to go to a soul concert where it is simply a man and his mic, then this isn’t it (although I suspect, he still would be good at that). This was a show with energy, humour and some folksy humility and most of all some refreshingly stripped down great performances.


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