With Paloma Faith bringing a local hero on the road, Shaun Ponsonby catches a pop star who is both fantastical and relatable. 

We have been following XamVolo for a good few years.

We have seen him play dozens of shows in various venues all over the city and beyond. He may not be a native of Liverpool, but his career began here. He is absolutely a Liverpool artist.

So to see him on an arena stage tonight – even as a support act – was both surreal and satisfying.

The kind of artist Xam is means that much of his material is best suited to more intimate settings, which may not have worked in an arena. He managed to circumvent this with the set up on stage. The large curtain blocking Paloma Faith’s diamond encrusted stage kept Xam and his musicians almost huddled close together, which emphasised the cosiness of the music.

Xam himself was as cool as ever. Likeable, but aloof, making everything look too easy. The last few weeks of performing in arenas hasn’t taken its toll on his voice, which is as powerful and soulful as ever.

If there is one criticism, it is that attention from the Paloma Faith fans seemed to wane during Adored, a lengthy slow burner that would no doubt have killed in a different setting for his own audience. But, by the time he finished on Old Soul, which straddles soul, jazz, folk and a touch of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, there was no doubt that XamVolo is on the right track.

Having finally achieved a number one album with current album The Architect, Paloma Faith revealed herself to be slightly matured, without losing the kookiness that made her so likeable in the first place.

Undoubtedly, motherhood is the reason for this. Faith’s personality is such a significant part of her appeal, so it is no surprise that she spends occasional stretches of the evening on lengthy monologues. It drives home a couple of interesting points.

Firstly, despite the quirks that make her feel like a real bona fide pop star, Faith has maintained a down to Earth outlook at her core, which makes one of the most relatable stars on stage. She talks candidly – and hilariously – about her personal experiences and how they have informed her work, from the birth of her child, to her personal body issues and her experiences with her first boyfriend. This makes us as an audience feel strangely close to her, even if she is dressed in sparkles.

There is one particular moment where this feels underlined. When talking about giving birth, she jokes that she expected to come out of the hospital “In full make up, looking like Beyonce”. In one fell swoop, she makes one thing clear – she is NOT a perfect pop star. She has faults just like the rest of us.

Secondly, she doesn’t compromise her perspective as a woman. There is no feeling that she is towing any kind of line for the male gaze, or using this primarily for financial gain. She would absolutely be taking this approach whether it was fashionable to do so at this point in time or not.

At one point she thanks the audience, referring to her “maternity leave”, and how all working women whether they’re a pop star or work in admin have the fear that their desk won’t be waiting for them at the end. “But my desk is still here”, she says, evoking a loud response, especially from the female members of the audience.

But the most striking thing about her performance is how soulful her vocals were. Sure, she is fun, she is relatable and you kinda want to hang out with her after the show. But at her core she is a powerful vocalist.

The highlight in that sense was Just Be from 2012’s breakthrough Fall To Grace, which saw her singing alone at the piano. Her voice was as powerful as any of the celebrated singers of our time. She could go up against the likes of Adele.

But, crucially, she has the upper hand on Adele. Unlike her chart rivals, she has found a way for her personality to work within her music and presentation of it.

The final song of the encore was Love Me As I Am. She encouraged us to sing along as she and her band left the stage – one last moment of community and togetherness. It seems unlikely that anybody left with a frown.

Pictures by Brian Sayle

Lead Image: artist’s Facebook page