It was a strange situation—Aqualung frontman Matt Hales’ first show without his band, and a beautiful backdrop—Birmingham Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. But, as he proved first in the U.K. and more recently in the States, Aqualung is a veritable expert on all things Strange and Beautiful. He began the show by admitting that he was, indeed, a Brit out of water—his first solo gig, thousands of miles away from his band. However, he quelled any doubts the audience (and he) may have had with a gripping performance of “Easier To Lie.” He opened with attention focused squarely on the keys, his voice floating effortlessly between a quiet, low whisper and a resonant falsetto. He stroked on, following “Left Behind” with his first UK hit, “Strange and Beautiful.”
The moments that took the listener out of the realm of beauty were the faster songs. A Smokey Robinson cover, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”, made plain the absence of the band, and the punchy piano chords were simply not enough to fill in the gaps between, leaving a hint of awkwardness and a definite drop in energy. “Extra Ordinary Thing” came before a two-in-a-row preview of songs off as-yet-untitled new record, “If I Fall” and “Outside.”
Aqualung’s professional vocals at times overpowered the somewhat amateur sound system, but it was a trade-off most were willing to make for a midsummer night’s concert lit only by spotlights and sculptures. His voice was impressive in its range, on the musical and pop-icon scales alike. At times he achieved a Bono-like resonance and stadium sound, and at other times he growled, only to slide smoothly into hypnotic wails.
The night of solid singer/songwriter goodness was winding down, with both guests and performer drenched in sweat, when Aqualung warned the audience that he would be returning for an encore. True to his word, he hopped off the makeshift stage, behind a column, and then back out again. Strange, indeed.