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Jack Garratt is a one-man band, like Ed Sheeran on steroids. At Brixton Academy, he stood with a drum kit on one side and several sets of keyboards on the other. He worked his kit hard, pummelling the drums, spinning round to operate the synths, pausing at the microphone to unleash vocals that went from wildman roars to plaintive falsetto, all within the space of a single song. Occasionally the 24-year-old produced an electric guitar and began reeling off blues vamps.
It was a hectic display of busyness, witnessed by a capacity audience of 5,000. Boosted by the Critic’s Choice award at this year’s Brits and a top spot in the BBC Sound of 2016 list, Garratt’s debut album Phase was a UK hit in February. His songs are less bland than previous Brit award beneficiaries, the dreary likes of James Bay and Tom Odell. But their hyperactivity presented a different set of problems at the Academy.
Opening number “Coalesce (Synaesthesia Pt. II)” set the tone. “I hope to God I’ll see you one more time,” Garratt crooned, an over-desperate suitor for our affection. The song proceeded to rouse itself into a frenzy of overwrought choruses, amplified by brash sound levels and explosive lighting, punctuated by a violent drum solo. Then came an abrupt shift in tone as Garratt delivered some relaxed stage banter, before leaping back into the fray with another of his multitasking songs.
He was a likeable performer and his music was impressive in parts. “Weathered” presented him as a plausible Sheeran-style balladeer while final track “Worry” capped its catchy electronic R&B with a lapel-grabbing guitar solo. But the parts were seldom given the space to cohere, veering impatiently from formulaic pop hooks to jazzy percussion and caffeinated drum and bass routines.
The itchiness was summed up by a manically convoluted mash-up of Craig David’s “7 Days” with Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita”. It was preceded by a teasing snatch of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, hammered out on the keyboards and sung with barrel-chested gusto by Garratt. Somewhere in there, amid the tumult, an old-fashioned entertainer was struggling to get out.