Having often passed the Electric Ballroom witnessing queues flooding down Camden high street, I have wondered what lies behind the unassuming doors. Tonight I can find out as I am here to see Tom Odell, the recent recipient of a Brit award and the crush of many a teenager (most of which seem to be here tonight). The venue is a gem, set back from the busy street, beneath the tourist traps. Upon entering the underground venue the musky tones of the first act can be heard, Norma Jean Martine.
Passing through the unexpectedly large audience space the American songstress becomes visible, tucked away in the corner of cluttered stage, her brunette locks falling across her face. The edge of nervousness in her performance is endearing. Pink smoke licks her matte black guitar as she sings folk-like tales of heartbreak. The delicate growl in her tone reminds me of what I like to imagine myself to sound like in the drunken delusion of the early hours, cigarettes and alcohol.
The stage is small, or at least so appears with Odell’s piano dividing it down the centre. Boxes line the periphery so the lucky/prepared few can peep down onto the artists. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Ballroom is a labyrinth, but in the dark the scattering of staircases adds intrigue to the venue, a slight quirkiness that is well suited to the nights entertainment.
Without notice Rae Morris has taken to the stage, seating her tiny frame behind her keyboard. The crowd have little time to acknowledge her appearance before she begins. Fiery orange and red lights hit off her wild curly hair as she commands the audience with a powerful voice, something in which reminds me of Bjork’s. Odell has taken to the side of the stage, and the women behind have noticed “Oh, what a MAN”, they are ready and waiting. Morris captures the attention of the audience with the beautiful simplicity of her music, and her own haunting engagement. Between songs she wriggles on her stool and sweetly thanks the crowd, looking somewhat shocked at the reaction she is receiving before finishing her set with ‘Grow’.
The stage is empty and the venue is now full. Crooner music begins to play telling that the piano waiting for its tamer has not long to wait. There are howls of anticipation, which are only accelerated when Odell finally appears.
With little more than a gesture of “hello” he thrusts straight into ‘Grow old with me’ and my expectations of a sickly sweet performance are shattered. It is easy to see how he has been inspired by the likes of Elton John, fiercely attacking the piano. The crowd surrender immediately to his energetic, aggressive performance almost by osmosis absorbing his passionate intoxication on the first hints of romance.
The audience are captivated as they drift into ‘Can’t Pretend’, power building throughout this theatrical number. Admissions of unrequited love can be heard amid the break into ‘Sirens’. There is something in his voice that hits a chord with people clearly and the room falls silent as he takes it down a notch with ‘Sense’.
The first offering of nostalgia is proposed to the older members of the audience in the form of The Beatles perfectly tailored ‘Oh! Darling’, and Odell certainly does the track justice, in fact he almost breaks the piano in his deference.
His Cobain blonde locks slick together as he turns to the audience to explain the incomparability of first love, leading, with delighted sighs into ‘Another Love’. The passion of this young man is palpable as he writhes back and forth on his chair, consumed by the instrument.
Moss green smoke climbs across the stage as we are treated to Odell’s first ever track ‘Stay Tonight’ which he turns to his guitar to perform. Ever aware of the tone of the gig Odell demands dancing for the certain hit, ‘Hold Me’ which culminates in the dramatic dismissal of his stool, kicking it back for to stand dominant over his tool. The energy of the room has peaked, and Tom Odell exits to rapturous applaud.
Returning for encore title track of the upcoming album ‘Long Way Down’ and a Rolling Stones cover ‘Honky Tonky Woman’ in tribute to his upcoming Hyde Park support gigs are the evenings closing tracks. In his final moments Odell dismantles the set knocking down his microphone, stool and pulling down his piano to reveal the formerly hidden drummer behind. A sweet attempt at rock’n’roll destruction, but nevertheless closing the show precisely to schedule, no wonder half the audience wanted to take him home with them.