Dark, downstairs and dirty, the Sala Bikini is an unlikely rock venue, tucked away in the corner of a Barcelona shopping mall. Inside, it’s small and cramped, a bit like a London pub during a World Cup match. The stage is in the midst of the throng and the headline act plays there, in your face, almost able to step off the stage and start strolling about on the heads of the crowd. That was where we saw George Ezra play live on Friday 13th, 2015.
Ezra is an artist on the rise. His biggest hit ‘Budapest’ already has 113 million listens on Spotify. The accompanying album, ‘Wanted on Voyage’ is also wonderful. It feels like albums used to be: a complete work where every track fits neatly together, rather than a random collection of tunes.
‘Wanted on Voyage’ was inspired by Ezra’s interrailing trip around Europe. It’s bittersweet that his most famous song was inspired by the one place he didn’t get to, Budapest. It’s funny how often that happens, that we’re inspired more by what we miss that what we actually see. The other city that lingered in his imagination was my own adopted home, and Ezra cunningly left it till the encore to play his smooth ballad Barcelona.
George’s interrailing days may be over, but he’s still hurtling from place to place. The day before our gig he was performing in Paris and the day after he was playing in Madrid. This week he’s back home in the UK where every gig is sold out but, lucky reader, if you live in the US or Northern Europe, you can still get tickets to many of his concerts later this year.
I had expected Ezra just to play his album from start to finish but there were a couple of surprises in store. Midway through the set, he played a few solo numbers on the guitar including a rocky version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl from the North Country’.
In style, Ezra is a lot like Dylan: his playing style is stripped back and rootsy, but he’s also ready to go electric and blast out some more rocking tunes.
And that voice! He sounds like something out of the Mississippi Delta. Listen to his song ‘Did You Hear the Rain?’ next to ‘O Death’ on the soundtrack to O Brother, Where art thou? and you’ll see what I mean. There are other powerful hints of the Deep South in Ezra’s songs. ‘Spectacular Rival’, for example, has the same epic power of ‘Far from Any Road’ by The Handsome Family, the theme music to True Detective.
Oh my! Did I mention that George Ezra is only 21 years old? He looked slightly surprised by all his success as the audience sang along to almost every one of his songs. Age means nothing when you have a major talent, and George Ezra has the magic. We’ll never be able to see him play in such a small venue again.