Gig review: Noah Kahan at First Direct Arena
“All of these songs are about negativity, Leeds” Noah Kahan tells a packed First Direct Arena. He cranes his neck to gaze up at the fans in the rafters, then chuckles. ”I think we need to spread that. I can already see some relationships fraying.”
When Kahan announced this short run last July, it seemed a wildly ambitious gamble from the Vermont singer-songwriter, having charted just one song and with breakthrough record Stick Season having spent a solitary week in the top forty.
How times change; with sold-out signs haphazardly plastered across the city and more mega-dome shows to come later in the summer, the New Englander might just be the hottest overseas import on the British musical landscape right now.
Three months since he played to a thousand fans at Leeds Beckett Student Union, the 27-year-old returns amid a sixth weekend atop the singles charts, with domination in his sights.
Certainly, by the response that greets him, his crossover success seems clearly plausible. Like Mumford and Sons a decade ago, Kahan has broken traditional pop boundaries, aided by the savvy conduit of TikTok exposure.
Tonight, his crowd is a predominantly Gen-Z-dominated bunch, one whose ear-splitting shrieks and massed singalongs almost drown out the star and his four-piece band as soon as they stroll on stage and strike up the mandolin-led bounce of All My Love.
That connection has been forged by Kahan’s approachable persona - as an open-hearted purveyor of big-lunged confessionals, a performer whose indie-folk flavours belie the rhythms of Americana and heartland rock in his veins, both in lyrical frankness and sonic ballast.
Amidst a landscape stacked against the post-millennial generation’s prospects, his songs marry familiar concerns to rosing hooks; live, the relationship mourn of She Calls Me Back, the therapeutic freefall of Growing Sideways and the self-sabotage bravado of False Confidence all erupt with the massive echo of muscular communalism.
Throughout, the singer seems visibly in awe, tempered with a dose of self-deprecation - he introduces himself as “your favourite Grammy-losing artist” after a terrifically wistful one-two of Pain Is Like Cold Water and Maine, and reads out a proposal sign for a woman before Call Your Mom.
It fittingly ends with the big ones; Stick Season coats the venue in blinking phone lights, before Homesick delivers one last burst of arms-aloft anthemics. “I can’t believe I’m playing an arena!” Kahan cries. Everybody else can though.