Last time Tom Odell played Southampton he was relatively unknown, and absolutely plastered on wine. Eight months on he is unbelievably successful, and his return to Southampton on Friday for the finale of his sold-out UK tour saw the O2 Guildhall filled out at maximum capacity with excited fans. Even so he still looked exactly the same as last time: like he’d just walked off a beach somewhere and suddenly found himself on stage, his over-sized shirt flapping in the breeze of a hundred teenage girls shouting they love him. His unique stage presence is probably one of the best parts of seeing Tom Odell live: one minute he’s ambling onto the stage and telling you how much he loves his Granddad, the next he’s beating a piano so hard you can see the sweat visibly dripping off his face. It’s a pretty special experience.
But the night got off to a good start before he’d even arrived, thanks to his support acts. First of Tom’s two ‘special guests’ were Brighton-based band Wildflowers, who set the mood with their gorgeous harmonies and folk-based melodies. By the end of their set they’d already enticed a sizable audience to the front, ready for recent BBC Sound of 2014 nominee George Ezra to take the stage. His set would have been much more impressive with the intimacy and acoustics of a small venue, but despite looking a tiny bit swamped on the big stage, Ezra is definitely one to watch. He took everyone by surprise with his deep, powerful vocals, a kind of gruff hybrid between Kings of Leon and Ben Howard, all set to impressively crafted guitar acoustics. If previous support acts to Tom Odell are anything to judge by (London Grammar supported his last Southampton performance), George Ezra is set for a rapid rise to fame.
By now the Guildhall was packed, and the unveiling of a shiny black piano at the centre of the stage whipped the atmosphere to a fever pitch. Finally Tom Odell strolled on stage flanked by his band, and jumped straight in with an audience favourite, ‘Grow Old with Me’, to a chorus of screams from the front and the whole crowd singing along. The set was fantastic, a range of songs drawn from his debut album Long Way Down, with the crowd predictably going wild the moment they heard the opening chords of ‘Another Love‘. Tom also threw in a few cheeky cover songs from the likes of The Beatles and Paul Simon, and for me they were the highlight of the night.
Picture the scene: Tom returns at the end of a crazy encore and dedicates a song ‘to the ladies in the audience’ (and there’s a lot of them). Next thing you know he’s launched straight in to Etta James‘ ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ and everyone is going absolutely wild. Tom’s band: Max Goff on bass, Matt Ingram on drums and Max Clilverd on guitar, start throwing some serious musical shapes, lights are flashing everywhere and in the centre is Tom Odell, looking high on smoke machine fumes, sweating all over the piano, pointing wildly at the audience and singing the lyrics with a kind of orgasmic crooning that makes the song come alive. The ladies of the audience were absolutely loving it, and so was everyone else.
This was a live set at its best, a gig that wasn’t just about the music, but about the performance as well. If you want to see a talented young musician beat the hell out of a piano and your expectations, go and see Tom Odell live. You will not be disappointed.