Shot! Tom Odell in Brighton

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that much from Tom Odell. Don’t get me wrong, I like him enough to have seen him three or four times before, but this show — originally scheduled to have taken place a couple of days earlier at the much bigger Brighton Centre — just didn’t fill me with excitement.

Neither did the lack of staging that greeted me when I walked in or that Tom was late coming on.

That being said, nothing prepared me for the performance the 27-year-old local boy (he was born just along the coast in Tangmere and studied music in Brighton) put on. In fact, I have to say it was up there as one of the best gigs of 2018.

So what was it that won me over? Why was it so good?

Maybe it was because he had his family in the audience, or that it was the last night of his UK your. Perhaps it was the euphoria of having released his new album the day before. Whatever it was, this was a very different Tom Odell to the shy, almost introverted performer I’d seen in the past.

Everything seemed ramped up: his vocals, his band, the sound quality and even those special moments that make a gig memorable, of which more later.

But more than anything else, here was a performer demonstrating absolute confidence in his craft and in himself. Having previously been stuck behind his piano, now he could break free, not just from his instrument, but from the stage itself. This was a remarkably different performer.

It began quietly with Tom barely lit at a grand piano as he opened with the atmospheric title track of Jubilee Road, a song that could have come from Elton’s back catalogue. As his three-piece band joined in, each of their faces are illuminated. The first thing that strikes is the quality of the sound. The Dome has the best acoustics of any Brighton venue and tonight was a masterclass in how to make the most of it.

In particular, Tom’s piano sounded superb, the best compliment I can give is the tone reminded me so much of Bruce Hornsby. These days it’s a rare sight to see a grand piano at a gig, with most artists sat behind some form of electric keys. Props to Tom, the piano was the only instrument he played. Indeed, it appeared everything we were hearing was coming from the musicians themselves. And boy, were they good.

But it wasn’t just the jazz-inflected musicianship that impressed, Tom’s vocals were on point all night, always impassioned, and at times surprisingly powerful.

The one thing he didn’t excel at however was whistling. Fortunately, when his whistling ability deserted him and he sheepishly laughed it off, the audience came to his rescue and we had the unusual experience of mass whistling.

The other sonic surprise was the power of the band. At times you had to remind yourself there were only four of them playing. For one song, there were five when they were joined by a sax player for an intense performance of You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight.

I didn’t catch his name when Tom introduced him, and despite trying I’ve not been able to identify who he was. What I can say is he was superb and elevated the song with a stunning solo. Apparently, Tom could only afford him for a couple of gigs, rather than the full tour. That’s such a shame for all those who were at a show where he didn’t feature.

Of course, it always makes a gig extra special when it features a special guest or something happens that’s unique. For the same reason, I’ve never been a fan of artists who wear the identical outfit every night as Tom chose to do with his green suit.

He gave everyone a chance to see it up close when he left both the piano and the stage during Hold Me to walk precariously around the perimeter of the stalls, something I’d never imagined he would do. (Maybe he was inspired by his support act, Tom Speight, who performed one song acoustically in the middle of the audience lit only by their cameraphones)

Those who regularly read my reviews will know I usually berate artists if they don’t put on a ’production’. Well, apart from some OK lighting and some basic drapes, Tom employed no theatrics whatsoever. With no staging, video screens, not even a backdrop, it was as simple as can be. And you know what? None of it was missed. This was all about the symbiosis of musicians and sound engineer and the piano player putting on an impassioned performance.

With three albums worth of material, Tom now has a far wider selection of songs to choose from. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end which meant missing some of his best tunes including my pick from his new record Half As Good As You and my other personal fave Magnetise.

Even so, it had been a memorable evening, one I’m glad ended up at the Dome rather than the far more impersonal Brighton Centre. When he returns, I hope he can put on a repeat performance…and, perhaps more than anything, I hope he brings back that sax player!

Setlist: Jubilee Road | I Know | Sparrow | Supposed To Be | Wrong Crowd | You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight | Can’t Pretend | Grow Old With Me | Hold Me | Son Of An Only Child | Entertainment | | Somehow | Till I Lost It | Concrete | Half As Good As You | Magnetised

“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”

Behind the image: All these images were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using only the 75 1.8 lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom using available light only. I was only able to shoot during the second and third songs, which isn’t much time. Being seated and with his piano on a riser, there really was only one place to shoot him from where his face wasn’t obscured and that was directly in front of where he was sitting. As always, my focus was on getting portraits of Tom, rather than full-length shots of him and his band. I really pleased with the end-results, not only are they distinctive, but I think they really capture his personality. Shot in Brighton on 27 October 2018.

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Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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Gary Marlowe

Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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