Originally published in The Edge
Thanks to a rapid transition from years of accumulating obscurity to selling out a nationwide arena tour, bagging a BRIT nomination and topping the album chart for the first time since his 2000 debut with last autumn’s Following My Intuition, the past two years have been nothing short of extraordinary for Southampton-bred Craig David. Extending the tour to a day at the Ageas Bowl – a cricket stadium capable of hosting upwards of 20,000 for events like this – seemed like a rather logical way to bring everything back to square one in a suitably exciting fashion. Speaking at its announcement in February, he waxed passionately about the “iconic” location, which has previously lined up performances from Oasis, Luciano Pavarotti, Rod Stewart, and, most recently, Little Mix.
Yet three months after tickets went on sale, everything was quietly canned, citing concerns following the 17 indoor dates that the show “would not work outdoors,” even though he’d been booked for plenty of other shows in forests and festivals up and down the land. Those who had taken the plunge for a Friday in the sun were instead scattered between four replacement nights at the Mayflower – a venue a tenth of the size that is more accustomed to live music in the shape of Joe McElderry and Jools Holland than anyone who packed out both of London’s concert arenas mere months ago – and, perhaps inevitably, a fair scattering of empty £42.50 seats remained as David entered the theatre for the very first time, despite spending his formative years barely a kilometre away on Orchard Lane.
Ultimately, the “intimate” show that blossomed from this was laden with passion for his music, his city, and his people. After stepping out through his seven-strong band and a piercing flood of light almost as glacial as his smile, peppy album-opening Sigala collaboration ‘Ain’t Giving Up’ provided an early semblance of a creaking venue adjusting to the enthusiastic crowd bopping moderately around their seats, and this contemporary saccharine burst soon subsided for a more substantial display of his traditional R&B material. Ranging from Born To Do It’s morose ‘Walking Away’ to deserving Following My Intuition album dweller ‘Louder Than Words,’ he and the band presented every record in an engaging rendition adorned by precise but gentle vocal acrobatics and an enthusiastic, free-flowing display.
Rare blips with party-oriented tracks like ‘Warm It Up’ stemmed from unnecessarily prominent backing vocalists and, at least from the balcony vista, slightly erratic journeying around the stage by those with microphones, acoustic guitars, and even a keytar for ‘What’s Your Flava?’ and ‘Nothing Like This.’ Choosing to keep things fairly PG through the cheeky ‘Couldn’t Be Mine’ and a garage twist upon Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself.’ with his parents watching on he wasted no opportunity to praise the community or even break into song mid-sentence. It’s impossible not to be charmed by this man’s very demeanour, let alone when he’s emitting a sound of silk.
As David wandered into the wings at the close of ‘7 Days,’ the stage was swiftly reset for his TS5 rig of a laptop, decks and a microphone – a similar set-up to his headline sent at Southampton’s Common People last May. It soon became clear that the live band sets since have rubbed off on this experience, as the relentless opening troika of the fine vintage of ‘Re-Rewind’, last month’s thundering Chase & Status collaboration ‘Reload’ and impeccable comeback single ‘When The Bassline Drops’ each saw him hit play then roam around in front engrossed in his lyrical responsibilities. Whilst the DJ set itself didn’t feel particularly spontaneous as he relied on many of the same turn-of-the-millennium staples (‘No Scrubs,’ ‘Show Me Love,’ ‘Flowers,’ ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’) as during last year’s festival slot, his performance did, whether by reciting his own songs over more established instrumentals (‘Rendezvous’ met Drake’s omnipresent ‘One Dance,’ ‘Walking Away’ went ‘Still D.R.E.’). The live band returned during a thankful monologue to play out with ‘16,’ where ‘Fill Me In’ is rounded off with help from Skrillex, Diplo, a dolphin-pitched Bieber, and 29 uses of the title in an otherwise sharp set of rap verse. His effortless multitasking of performing, selecting, and mixing with a microphone in one hand and headphones secured loosely between his shoulder and tilted head never fails to impress.
Taking this avenue did expose some further questions regarding the choice of venue – if you’re going to end on 40 gleeful minutes of classic tracks delivered with a beaming grin by a man sporting a £40 t-shirt that has his own name on the front, people will probably fancy a proper dance without chairs in the way; if you’re going to advertise a show as a majestic homecoming and have a proper metal gig barrier up at the front, people will probably fancy going up to said barrier to reach out to him without being swiftly ushered away by stewards. To those that did show up, however, it was quite straightforward to forgive these quirks. 16 years since doing this exact thing in his bedroom, David demonstrated that the has lost none of his flair, and the collective rediscovery of enthusiasm for what he does best made the whole evening feel like both a celebration and a beginning.