George Ezra, review: the poppy charms of Harry Styles – without the ego

George Ezra remains a 'pleasant and safe' pop entertainer - WireImage
George Ezra remains a 'pleasant and safe' pop entertainer - WireImage

When George Ezra performed his single Green Green Grass for the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee concert in June, the British singer-songwriter was asked to self-censor the line: “You better throw a party on the day that I die.” He did; yet, despite recent events, there was no such change last night at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena, where Ezra kicked off a tour that will take him around the UK and then around the world. (The track, he explained midway through the show, was inspired by a Caribbean funeral he encountered while travelling, which “celebrated life in a way I hadn’t seen before”.)

“He’s hardly Harry Styles,” remarked an audience member after somebody in the 11,000-strong, family-friendly crowd appeared to faint before the show began. That’s a little unfair: Styles may play more stadiums than Ezra, but both dominate the charts with their sunny pop, and while Styles’s persona outshines his music, for Ezra it’s the other way round: his sturdy songwriting counteracts any lack of ego or headline-courting flamboyance.

Still, he’s a household name, his songs as suited to the washing-up or family road-trips as they are national occasions. Ezra’s first two albums radiated escapism, but as he told the Liverpool audience, his third, Gold Rush Kid – which completed his hat-trick of No 1 albums earlier this year – is about “wanting to be where you are… and right now I want to be here with you.”

In a jacket embroidered with “Gold Rush Kid”, Ezra emerged from the belly of the stage amid the showy toots of Tom Jones’s It’s Not Unusual, only to proceed with the solid calm of a yoga teacher. His reassuring presence owes plenty to his voice and its Paul Robeson-like bullfrog depths, as well as the popularity of his music. Positive energy prevailed, from opener Anyone For You (Tiger Lily) to the swooping electric guitar of Saviour and Did You Hear The Rain, Ezra bouncing on his tiptoes like a Jailhouse Rock-era Elvis.

The seven-piece band relieved a slow middle section with an extended jam during All My Love, a fan favourite, and a deluge of hits followed: Green Green Grass, with its melody borrowed from Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler; Ezra’s 2013 breakthrough single, Budapest; and the elastic hooks of his biggest song, Shotgun. Pleasant and safe, if sometimes as blandly reliable as a bowl of cornflakes, Ezra continues his reign as the UK’s most dependable pop star.

Touring the UK until Oct 2, then worldwide. Tickets: georgeezra.com