You know those people who, when asked what kind of music they like, gleefully answer, “Everything!” much to your frustration and disappointment? Well, newcomer John Newman, would be one of those people (the difference here is that he wouldn’t annoy you). It—meaning Newman’s encompassing appreciation for all genres—was immediately evident in the opening of the soul-pop singer’s show at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre, one of the 23-year-old’s last tour stops Stateside before heading back home to Europe to wrap up.
John Newman Revels in Retro at El Rey Theatre
While a white curtain (hanging from ceiling to stage) cleverly obstructed concertgoers’ clear view of Newman, a recorded voice emanated from speakers listing every decade, from 1960 to 2010, and then scores of each eras’ most influential artists. By the time Newman arrived in his trademark tie-less shirt-and-suit style, and blonde-streaked pompadour, everyone from Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones, to Jay-Z, John Mayer, and Kings of Leon had been name-checked; it was the intro to the title track of Newman’s debut album, aptly-named: Tribute.
Newman, quite literally, launched himself into that track, and its equally feel-good followers, “Try” and “Cheating,” with a confidence and charm so palpable, it matched that of a seasoned vet. His look was all bouncing hair, a lip snarl like Elvis, and footwork reminiscent of James Brown. But his voice—which easily cut through the thundering retro sounds of piano pounding, resounding strings, and big horns—was all his own. He, himself, has deemed it “goat”-like, but a kinder person would describe it as equal parts husky and nasal. It can warble, and coo, and growl all in one set list.
And though Newman was a pure entertainer on the uplifting “All I Need Is You” (during which the titular chant felt gospel) and “Losing Sleep,” he was also a heartbroken human on “Easy” and “Down the Line,” the latter of which he never opened his eyes for and white-knuckled the mic. The dichotomy continued when he thrust his pelvis on “Gold Dust” like a modern-day sex symbol, but then fell to his knees during ballad “Out of My Head” (to the pleasure of many outstretched hands) like, well, a more Motown-esque sex symbol.
Despite the difference in demographics, the entire crowd—comprised of birthday-celebrating drunk girls, packs of screaming dudes, adult couples on date night, and middle-aged women with roses ready to throw—was in a euphoric state by the time Newman performed his closer–lead single (and #1 hit in his homeland of the UK) “Love Me Again.” Under the chandeliers of the theater, we followed his command to sing along an a cappella coda, and when the lights dimmed, all that was heard was praise, even if painfully cliche–“It’s like he’s been doing this his whole life!”; “He’s a star!” Then, we all rushed the door, not because we were eager to escape the elation, but because, well, it’s L.A., and we pride ourselves on avoiding traffic.
Article by Danielle Cheesman