Kiwi music sensation, Mitch James played the Powerstation in Auckland, NZ last night to promote his debut album Mitch James. In an evening of high energy and "holy-sh***"'s, Mitch took the audience through an array of emotions with a few minor "up's and down's and down's and up's and down's" thrown in the mix, throughout the show.
Opening the show was Rotorua-born musician Alayna, accompanied by bass, a dazzling, sparkly, green electric guitar, drums and keys. Walking out in a stunning black jumpsuit with subtle frills, she sang with an exceptional voice but not a lot of stage presence. Possibly very nervous, she physically tucked herself away, closing off her shoulders, her hands tucked in either in front or behind, staying behind the mic stand for her sets entirety, seemingly bored?
The first song was slow paced, so I passed the shyness onto the feel of the song, emotional and heartfelt. However, her lack of connection with the audience continued throughout the set, which was unfortunate, because her voice should definitely not go unnoticed. Alayna has a soft, husky vocal with an amazing ability to trill. I wanted her to show off her voice more. Grab the mic and power belt into the song! Her voice was exceptional, that would have brought it, and the overall performance, up to the next level.
Why call it live music if a chunk of it isn't live?
Loud, bass-driven drone sounds filled the room for roughly a minute as instrumentalists took to the stage. A drummer and keyboardist/guitarist. After approximately 20 seconds, Mitch James runs out onto the stage with the biggest smile on his face and goes straight into It Ain't Helpin'... but forgot to plug in his guitar! He didn't end up properly plugging in until after the first chorus. This was unlikely intentional, although it did give the audience a sense of realism and that he's just another forgetful human like us. It was amusing but not in a negative way. However, it was then that I realised he was playing to a backing track, which was slightly disappointing. His guitar playing was live but coming from the speakers were backing vocals and a bass that definitely was not present on stage. Which is a shame. Why call it live music if a chunk of it isn't live? Continuing the song, Mitch brought an intense, high energetic passion to the stage, tremendously happy and insanely talented.
"Holy s*** Auckland", started the classic round of introductory's and thank you's, leading us into his next song, All The Ways To Say Goodbye. A slow, emotional song and a dangerous choice for a second song of the night, close to the opening of his set. However, he did not lose any of the crowd, there wasn't a single person I could see not totally immersed in the song. The light display, went full beam on the bigger pulses of the song which made up for the lack of build and tempo. Moving comfortably into Can't Help Myself, the song that showed off his insane vocal ability and clever elements in the song structure. There was a section after the second chorus with a slow building crescendo, melodically, rhythmically and vocally, where we were expected a huge pulse and an immediate climax point to follow up but the song dropped out completely, into a slow and soft chorus... for two bars. Then wham! Mitch straight into the peak point we all wanted earlier. He delayed our expectations and it was captivating and freakin' awesome!
The band walked off and we hit a series of solely acoustic songs, definitely a highlight of the evening. "Paying tribute to the big man himself, Ed Sheeran" he introduced his next song, a cover of Happier by one of his biggest influences. He was looping the song and politely explained that he needed the crowd to "shut up for a bit" so that the "cheap loop" wouldn't pick up the audience, apparently in one of his other shows everyone would be quiet up until one person would realise what song it was and become vocally emotional, getting in the loop. It took about a minute of tedious shh-ing to get the crowd to be quiet and he started the loop. Of course, in almost dead silence (Powerstation silent? Super impressive) we hear someone close to the stage, "aww you're gonna make me cry" and Mitch stops immediately. In amusing frustration, "See!! That's what I mean!" The crowd burst into laughter and he's instantly gained this genuine, kiwi, human quality to his stage presence that I've never witnessed before.
He starts again exclaiming that he's, "gonna need like a collective shhhhh". But again, after finishing the guitar section, just about to start the vocals, some guy in the back slurs a loud remark and Mitch bursts into, "ohhhh shut the f*** up!!" And the whole crowd cheer tremendously for his real-ness and shut up within seconds. He does the vocal part and the loop is complete, "Alright make some f***ing noise". In a short few minutes of total honesty and transparency, Mitch created an all inclusive show, we were right there with him! This was probably one of the most important parts of the show. Unplanned but the highlight of the evening that set us up for the rest of the show. The cover was, expectedly amazing and definitely well worth the tedious shh-ing, as promised.
Thomas Oliver, past Silver Scroll winner shared the stage in a live energetic jam session for Mitch's hit single, No Fixed Abode. Which interestingly was written about a ticket given to him by a Police Officer while he was homeless in Amsterdam and busking in the street, the ticket said "No Fixed Abode". Oliver's and Mitch's voices matched perfectly, particularly in the perfect harmonies sung in every chorus. Both played rhythm guitar in the versus which started off quite harsh on the ears but contrasted the chorus' and bridges where we were given some sick guitar solos from Oliver. Playing with each other and against each other, we watched the good friends jam with big smiles on their faces, looking like they were having the time of their lives.
Moving us into the most heartfelt song about his album, One More was a song written for one of his best friends who's asked Mitch for a hopeful song about his struggle to have kids. Unfortunately, One More, also had a backing track. I understand the use of backing tracks, to add another element to the performance, fill out empty sound. But it's so much more genuine and captivating when everything is live. Mitch James' lyrics and vocal ability carried the emotional song through to the end, singing of "Maddy-May" and of course, out comes Maddy-May held by his best friend, who the song was essentially about. Definitely tugs on some heart strings there.
The band returns for the next two songs, Old News and Bright Blue Skies. For Old News, he doesn't play his acoustic. It's just him and the band (and the backing track), but it is huge. Without the guitar, he's able to show off this fire-y passion in his vocals that we'd thought we'd seen the whole of by this point. We were wrong! After the song, Mitch picked his guitar up again and Bright Blue Skies exhibited slightly less fire, I think Old News was the breaking point for Mitch. From then on, until he left the stage, he still had crazy energy and super strong songs but he'd started to sing off key more and more, playing the wrong chords and losing some of the crowd.
No Getting Older saw Mitch James completely "naked and without the guitar", he said. Just him and the keys. The crowd seemed slightly captivated with him, the song and his ability to be completely bare but again there were moments of him singing flat. Got Today saw a few of the wrong chords being played too, his fatigue however was only prevalent in his playing and singing, his energy had not wavered one bit.
The rest of the concert was like this unfortunately, through Lay It On The Line, a cover of King Princess' 1950 and back to album original Apologise. But then we came to 21. The song everyone had clearly been waiting for. An absolute banger that definitely had the most crowd participation. 21 seemed like another highlight of the evening and the perfect song to "end on"?
Instead of pretending there was no encore, or saying goodnight, he knew he'd be coming back to play. This made Mitch James that touch more genuine than a lot of other pretentious artists. "See you in a few minutes" he said. Obviously, every other show he'd played the encore, instead of waiting for them to say it, he took a short break, came back out and amusingly said, "Well if you insist".
His 'encore' was a crazy mashup of No Diggity, Pass Me The Money, Loyal (Chris Brown), Don't and Smoke Weed Everyday and finished with Move On, the last song left on the album. We then saw Mitch James get a bit emotional himself saying, "I don't want this s*** to end", this being the tour, as the Powerstation was the last show. "This has been a dream come true" and "This is so crazy" were only a couple of the many heartfelt comments he made about his debut tour. He brought the crew out on stage to take a few photos in front of the crowd and as he left, exclaimed, "this is not the last time you'll see me Auckland, goodnight!"
Mitch James certainly has a lot of hidden talents that all of New Zealand needs to see. Being so new to the touring scene, he perhaps needs to develop more vocal stamina which I imagine will only grow with more practice. However, this was undoubtedly an amazing concert to watch and be a part of, if you haven't heard the album it's definitely worth a listen.
A Radio 13 album review of Mitch James' self titled debut album by Jenna Ackerman can be found here.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Matthew King for all the images featured in this article.