When it comes to Newton Faulkner gigs, I think that my friends and family will agree that I am what many would consider a veteran. Having lost count of the times I have seen him play live in Australia, I thought that it was only fitting to mark the first time catching him live while living in the UK.
As Newton said himself, his new album ‘Human Love is slightly more grown up, but still very fun’ and this was certainly demonstrated with his live performance. Once on stage, Newton sported this new change of direction both physically in appearance, with those once well-known dreadlocks disappearing in replace of a neater bun, and harmoniously, with the inclusion of two more onstage band members.
Piling into the crowed O2 Academy in Oxford, the venue was at capacity right from the opening acts. After opening the set with well-known tracks from his first album, Hand Built by Robots, it didn’t take long until there was encouraged audience participation. The crowd was split into three, each with allocated parts to sing. Proving to ‘like a challenge’ himself, it also provided a challenge for the audience – not a bad challenge nevertheless (our group always seemed to land ourselves with the highest parts – a complaint not from me but from my boyfriend, to which I responded, ‘just sing it an octave lower, you’ll be fine’).
This promising start guided the crowd into an instant upbeat mood which then led into the mesmerising performance of ‘I Need Something’. Starting the show with just Newton on stage enthralled the crowd – as we could see the setup of the drum kit and bass – a good way to anticipate what was to come.
‘Human Love’ exemplifies an inherent movement away from his familiar sounds of previous albums, but there still remains the element of highly skilled and technical guitar playing. ‘Up, Up and Away’, the second song on Human Love, is evidently the ‘trickiest, most demanding and technically difficult’ song, but as it’s still part of the tour’s set list, giving the audience chance to realise the capability of a guitar and the use of the guitar’s neck.
To the surprise of many, his voice was so absorbing that during songs without the band it was completely gone amiss. This sudden change in set shows there still remains an originality to Newton as a solo artist during his execution of previous albums; while previously I have only ever seen him in solo performances, it was an interesting new layer he has added with the addition of ‘the Tobi’ – referencing the two Tobys on stage with him; Toby Faulkner, his older brother and Toby Couling, a session drummer he has been working with on this and previous albums.
In relation to his new stuff, ‘the songs are closer to the first album [Hand Build by Robots] in some ways, but much further away in others.’ Still continuing with the avid catchy guitar sounds, but with additional beats and rhythms arising from the extra band members, it is ultimately another direction for Newton to trial out in this exciting journey.
One of the most notable things that I absolutely love about the tracks on ‘Human Love’ is the dance factor – you try and listen to ‘Far to Fall’ without wanting to just dance around and have a great time. This was thoroughly encouraged at the gig, at many points, Newton would stop and tell the audience that we are now going to ‘take it up a notch’ – there was even talk of a dance competition!
As with many gigs, it draws to the end with an encore. However, this was an extremely original type of encore which involved a medley of songs – the rapid change in song halfway through each chorus unexpectedly flowed well. It ended the whole performance on a high resulting in a thrilled atmosphere pouring through the room, even as the crowd left the venue.
All in all – it was a fantastic show. There are never any Newton Faulkner shows that are exactly the same and maybe this is what I like so much about him as an artist – there is just a cool, go with the flow vibe that you don’t see enough of. I will leave you now, with my favourite Newton Faulkner cover – Happy Friday!