Review: Newton Faulkner at O2 Academy Bristol

“There’s a place I go when I’m alone, do anything I want, be anyone I wanna be”. 2007’s Dream Catch Me turns 10 years old this year, and it remains as Newton Faulkner’s most well-known track. Six studio albums and several major festival appearances, as well a stint starring in the Green Day jukebox musical American Idiot, shows an impressively varied music career since.

While his career has not matched the phenomenal commercial success of his platinum-certified debut album Hand Built By Robots, Faulkner has quietly become one of the UK’s most well-respected singer-songwriters. This is reflected in the sold-out crowd that queue round the block before the doors have even opened at Bristol’s O2 Academy.

Faulkner’s trademark charm and relaxed chat is evident from the off. A dead guitar battery prevents him from starting his first song leaving him stranded on stage, but he wins the crowd over with his self-deprecating humour until the guitar is fixed. Hand Built By Robots opening track To The Light is followed by Smoked Ice Cream, the opener from 2017’s self-released album Hit The Ground Running.

Popular single Clouds is next up, and Faulkner splits the audience into three and gives each group a part to sing. This feels an ambitious move so early in the set, but Faulkner’s showmanship and the crowd’s adulation for him make it a total success. The result is an epic outro of harmonies and looped instrumental parts, as Faulkner switches between playing guitar, piano and drums and conducting his assembled choir. Ed Sheeran’s similar tricks have carried him to stadium shows and Glastonbury headline sets; it’s hard to argue that Faulkner would look out of place on the same stage.

Faulkner has the musicianship to back this up as well. He is one of the masters of ‘percussive’ guitar playing (basically using parts of the guitar as a drum while playing), and this is blended seamlessly into his live performances including the old favourite I Need Something. Guitar sound effects, loop pedals, a kick drum and more are also employed, and the resulting sound is impressively rich for a solo performer. However, the centrepiece is still Faulkner’s admirable vocal range and dynamics, which are just as strong even after a cold forced the cancellation of the three previous shows.

Meandering stories and humorous (borderline inappropriate) comments are a theme of the night; an amusing story follows about an emotional song he wrote for his son, who subsequently hated it and thought it was ‘creepy’. The comic story is backed up with a genuinely emotional piano rendition of Carry You, although normal service is resumed when Faulkner performs a hilarious crowd-requested track describing a love story set in a dog food factory.

Crowd interaction is another theme of the evening, and the relationship between performer and fans is clearly very strong. Hit song Dream Catch Me starts as a slow acoustic ballad and builds into a foot-stomping, singalong anthem that goes down a storm. The set ends with a medley of fan favourites and requests, including 2012’s popular track Write It On Your Skin, and Faulkner’s request to jump as high as you can in the final chorus is gleefully accepted by the eclectic crowd of young and old. This moment of euphoria is a fitting end to an entertaining and enjoyable evening.

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