Jamie Woon's career has already been weighed down by expectation. Not only was he one of the most name checked artists in this year's "To Watch" lists, but he's also one of the few acts to gain the seal of approval from the dubstep enigma Burial. Happily, his live show confirms he has the voice—and songs—to deliver on the interest he's been receiving.
In person Woon's blue eyed soul feels like the kind of music Jamiroquai would make if they started in 2011. (And that's not meant as a backhanded compliment). Where Jay Kay's early music fell loosely into the category of acid jazz, the preserve of London DJ's like Gilles Peterson, Woon's music falls into the amorphous genre of post-dubstep: a sound that Peterson has smoothly moved onto in recent years. With a crack team of session musicians behind him, Woon's music took on a different dimension to his recordings. Wiggly synth bass and loose live drums—that owed more than a little to Innervisions-period Stevie Wonder—rubbed up against Woon's skittering digitally delivered electronics.
Opening up with the single, "Night Air," a set of well crafted songs were smoothly delivered note perfect. Woon may be a newcomer, but his years of graft as a folk singer have given him an assurance way beyond his years. The cosmic-funk of "Lady Luck" even got the cynical looking industry bods grooving away at the back of the room. Stints on the bass, electric guitar and FX unit showed off the singer's technical skills; but in truth this paled in to comparison to his vocal performance. Emotive and methodically faultless, Woon possess a voice that more than makes up for his muted stage presence.
If Woon's set was more about ice cool nonchalance Gruff Rhys' was contrastingly quirky and, well, odd. The Super Furry Animals frontman shambled onto the stage sporting a beard, fisherman's bobble hat and battered blazer. Backed by Y Niwl—North Wales' greatest ever surf-rock act—Rhys leapt into his opening number playing a pair of electronic drumsticks that he used to tap out white noise glitches over a summery Beach Boys-esque backing. Singing his first track entirely in Welsh, which might as well have been Swahili to the crowd's London ears, Rhys honed the attention of the room solely with his quirky stage presence. Moving to the keyboard, Rhys' next trick was to jam along to a record player and 12-inch featuring random bird song and sound effects. Of course gimmickry such as this is great fun to watch, but it shouldn't detract from the fact Rhys has an arsenal of hugely underrated pop songs to draw from. "Candylion," slipped in half way through, was a perfect example of Rhys' subtle ear for melody and tender lyrics.
At other times his penchant for psychedelia was ramped up to full. With an orange and yellow-painted acoustic guitar, Rhys went into "Shark Ridden Waters"—a love song delivered from the perspective of a shark closing in on its prey. At another point Y Niwl struck up a cacophony of out-of-tune recorder playing that was so bad it could only have been done on purpose. You could lazily suggest that the inspiration for many of Gruff's more out there onstage moments comes from serious consumption of recreational intoxicants: however, that's just an insult to the singer's bold imagination. On the final record Rhys fed the crowd the first words of a new song and told them "to greet it like it's a line they've known all of their lives." This caused a huge cheer for an unknown record, something that will look great but perplexing on TV. It was a moment of recognition that was well deserved, even if it had been delivered under duress.