“These are some of the funnest shows we’ve ever done,” smiles George Ezra. What else do you expect from the most optimistic man in pop? Since 2014, the Hertfordshire singer-songwriter has mastered his own brand of all-welcoming positive-pop that’s won fans of all ages. Radio staple megahits like “Budapest” and the Joe Wicks-assisted “Shotgun” were infectious songs of gap year travel, widened horizons, and living life to the fullest. In a modern age where pop can sometimes feel cynical and exploitative, here was charming young George to remind you this stuff was meant to be fun.
Last year’s third album Gold Rush Kid, the 28-year-old’s third consecutive chart-topper, added some gloomier concerns. Among Ezra’s usual happy fare, there were a handful more reflective songs of struggles with mental health and OCD, the strain of touring and imposter syndrome; in interviews, he suggested he nearly quit music altogether.
But there’s no sign of any of that tonight. Omitting any of Gold Rush Kid’s darker material, this is Ezra in full-on crowd-pleaser mode. Aware he has an audience ranging from grannies to young children – I’ve never been to a show with more pre-school aged kids in the crowd – he serves up a big-hearted, clean-cut pop show for all the family, full of bold primary colours and illustrated visuals.
When the brass section of his backing adds calypso flavour to songs like “Blame it on Me” and “Green Green Grass”, the drawings of palm trees and exotic locations make you feel like you’re at a holiday resort. During an acoustic interlude, including a lovely take on the slowly incessant “Hold My Girl”, the sketched, twinkling night-time moon and stars recall the front page of a Lewis Carroll book. With Ezra, there’s something for everyone.
But then Ezra’s whole vibe – the friendly lad you met in halls at university who played in the hockey team – has proved as winnable as his songs. He just radiates niceness: with his slicked-back hair and denim jacket with Gold Rush Kid written on the back – think 50s rocker cast in an E4 drama – his face beams all night. When he addresses the crowd, which he does with utmost sincerity, he often does so with his arms outstretched, as if he’s trying to give the whole place a giant hug.
The music follows suit. There are few surprises, save a noisy take on “Did You Hear the Rain?”. Tracks like “Pretty Shining People” and “Cassy O’” are precision tooled for the hooks to sound huge and easy to sing along to, which they duly are. That isn’t to damn with faint praise: to produce songs so meticulously well-crafted that maintain an air of carefree bonhomie is no mean feat, even if over 90 minutes there are lulls that can veer into the wrong side of naff.
Yet he can’t go wrong with the big hitters. “Green Green Grass”, a song about death that looks forward to the knees up at the wake, is undeniable dance-pop. The frenetic chorus of “Paradise” adds a flash of excitement that you didn’t realise was missing. This version of “Budapest” is fairly perfunctory but that barely seems to matter: it’s sung back at deafening volume. He ends the night with the bassy groove of summer-worshipping “Shotgun”, by which time everyone has a smile as wide as Ezra’s.