Reviewed on Thursday May 1
If tonight’s show at The Hi-Fi proved anything, it was the value of modesty. John Newman, 23 years old and already a world-beater before his solo career ever began thanks to some handy work with Rudimental, brought everything he had and it was too much. In a white suit, gold chain and sporting his telltale quiff, Newman opened with ‘Tribute’, a thank you note of sorts to the artists that preceded and influenced him, from Motown to Michael Jackson and beyond. What was immediately apparent, as he stomped across the stage, sometimes trailing his microphone stand, other times in an energetic (but often uncoordinated) dance routine full of spins, was that Newman was trying too hard to channel his idols.
With a four-piece band, two backup singers and the kind of self-confidence you’d usually attribute to someone with the dancing chops of Justin Timberlake, Newman’s unique and very polished vocal performance was too often eclipsed by attempts at spectacle.
On quieter numbers, like the poignant ‘Out Of My Head’ and particularly the ballad ‘Down The Line’, we saw what Newman’s show should have been; a simple piano-and-vox combination almost always trumped more trumped-up moments. When the ostentatious was familiar – as on singles ‘Cheating’ and encore closer ‘Love Me Again’ – a crowd reared on the flashy soul Newman was aping were very much along for the ride. But elsewhere, especially where his bravado exceeded audience knowledge or enthusiasm, the results fell flat.
As far as modesty goes, Newman could do well to take a leaf out of support act Saskwatch’s book. The Melbourne nine-piece, touring on the back of its second studio album, was humbly brilliant. Kudos to the sound engineer who managed to make even a four-strong horn section sound crisp and punchy. Some of those horns wouldn’t have gone astray on Rudimental’s ‘Not Giving In’, part of an inspired Newman encore. That encore was too long in the making, after Newman and his band left the stage for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time and cheers started and petered out.
Much of it might be down to inexperience. ‘Tribute’ was released only seven months ago and suddenly, halfway across the world, Newman is expected to be the consummate professional. He is not, at least not yet, but will be a fascinating act to watch as his live performance catches up with his ambition.