More often than not, when a marquee artist plays up the fact that a “low-key, intimate” gig is in the offing, the resulting event is more ostentatious than a full-fledged production thanks to overflowing VIP areas, ubiquitous film crews and other such trappings. In a welcome change of pace, James Blunt actually held up his end of the less-is-more bargain at this day-after show celebrating the release of his long-awaited sophomore set “All the Lost Souls.”
The singer and his long-standing backing band delved rather heavily into the new disc, ignoring calls for older crowd faves such as “No Bravery.” That seemed a prudent choice, given the rather distinct difference between the tenor of his debut’s material and the new compositions, not to mention the antipathy generated by his worldwide hit “You’re Beautiful,” which was dubbed the most annoying song ever in one recent British poll.
Blunt may be experiencing “You’re Beautiful” fatigue himself, since he tossed the song off sans introduction in the early part of the 80-minute perf — a wise choice given the superiority of the songs that bookended it, particularly the subtly sniping tabloid traipse “Annie.”
The latter song’s bitter edge cut through its “Madman Across the Water”-era Elton John melody with precision — a mood that was echoed in Blunt’s gruffer-than-usual delivery. He took a similar tack on a brace of other tunes culled from the new disc, notably the world-weary “Give Me Some Love.”
Perf clicked most smoothly when Blunt allowed his band –particularly the slick-but-swinging rhythm section — some room to maneuver, as on a set-ending “1973.” When he ventured too far out on his own, sonic syrup enveloped him, lending an uncomfortably shlocky feel to the proceedings.
Blunt did demonstrate enough dexterity to keep sugar shock at bay, bantering dryly with aud members and tossing in a relatively faithful cover of Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” — a song that’s rapidly approaching Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” in terms of ubiquitousness. He’ll never be accused of driving his musical vehicle recklessly, but for the time being, at least, he’s not dead set on sticking to the middle of the road.
James Blunt plays the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Tuesday.