UK singer/songwriter sensation James Bay became the latest British invader to win over the U.S. with his Grammy-nominated breakthrough hit “Hold Back the River.” We were pleased to welcome the Hertfordshire native to our studio for his debut taping as he showcased his acclaimed debut LP Chaos and the Calm.
Adorned in his trademark black hat, Bay and his four-piece band opened the show on a high energy note with the bluesy, rocking “Collide.” He followed that slam-bang with “Craving,” a catchy slice of what would have been called heartland rock back in the ‘80s. “When We Were On Fire” kept the faith, adding a soulful edge thanks to Bay’s elastic vocals. After donning an acoustic 12-string guitar, Bay explained how he and the band “geeked out” on ACL, before launching into the folk rock charmer “If You Ever Want to Be in Love.” Switching to a six-string, Bay got soulful and romantic on the midtempo beauty “Need the Sun to Break,” which generated applause with just the opening riff.
Breaking from Chaos, the singer/songwriter slowed things down with the widescreen ballad “Running,” from his UK breakout EP Other Sides. Then it was back to the LP, as a harmony guitar riff between Bay and guitarist Andy Cortes garnered cheers for the opening of his massive hit serenade “Let It Go,” featuring a bluesy Bay solo and the audience on backing vocals. He then surprised us with a brief, instrumental excerpt of the immortal Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” used as an intro for the lighter-waver “Scars,” a clear crowd favorite. The band then let pianist Jack Duxbury stretch out on an extended intro to “Move Together,” another lush ballad.
A switch to a Gibson SG heralded a switch in tone, as a chunky guitar riff and Bay’s demand to “see some hands” powered up the gnarly rocker “Best Fake Smile.” Bay and his band kept the energy level high with the crunchy “Get Out While You Can,” which made the crowd into hand-clappin’ fools and ended the main set with a bang. The time between the band leaving the stage and returning was short, however, and they started their encore with a song familiar to all: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s immortal “Proud Mary,” which morphed halfway through into Tina Turner’s powerhouse version, both halves punctuated by steely guitar solos. Bay ended the performance with the fan-favorite anthem “Hold Back the River,” likely to be his own contribution to the classic rock canon. The show ended with the requisite big rock flourish, to the delight of the passionate crowd. It was a memorable ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts as part of Season 42 on PBS.