It’s fair to say we were expecting a bigger first impression from Meilyr Jones. As he walks on stage he looks a bit…well, normal; all bowl cut and brown shirt and trousers. In bringing his record to life on stage, we probably weren’t alone in expecting costume changes and theatrics, but the more subtle reality is far more arresting than any choreographed show could have hoped to be.
His debut solo album, 2013, was released just a few weeks ago, but tonight’s a sell-out; an early stop on a lengthy UK tour – in fact, he’s already booked to play at the Village Underground in October. The former Racehorses frontman’s first offering is an eclectic, oddball of a record. Beautifully orchestrated chamber pop forms the backdrop for his voice, which flits between textures and tones, becoming an instrument in itself. It channels the kookiness of the best of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals, The Divine Comedy, and even looks to the drama and wry wit of Morrissey in places. It’s got pop melodies, spine-tingling music and lyrics you want to actively listen to. It’s quite something.
The record was inspired by the emotional rollercoaster of its title year, which saw the break-up of both his band and relationship, which prompted him to hot foot it to Rome, and you can really sense the awkward juxtaposition of him allowing himself time to wallow in grief and also harnessing an eagerness to carve a new life. He’s unashamedly intellectual; 2013 is dripping in high brow references, from Byron to architecture, but on stage he’s accessible, chattering between songs but staring, doe-eyed into the crowd, arms flailing towards the glittery, gold ceiling, during.
He was flanked by a 30-strong orchestra for the recording. Tonight that’s significantly shrunken but still wonderfully effective, as the multi-instrumentalists skip between instruments, creating a sound that, amazingly, doesn’t lack the enormity of the record’s production. Strings wash over the room; a full-bodied, at times haunting accompaniment to the delicacy of Jones’s voice.
He opens with How to Understand A Work Of Art, a Dexys-ish foot- stomper of a track, all brass and brash. Other highlights include the swirling baroque waltz of Olivia and Strange Emotional, which tonight he cuts with Bowie’s Rebel Rebel.
Tonight’s set was short but sweet; understated but spot on. Jones proved he doesn’t need props to bring 2013 to life. This was something close to pop perfection.