Holly Humberstone review – Brit winner makes a big room feel intimate | Pop and rock

As the crowd takes up the chorus of Falling Asleep at the Wheel, reverently singing its words unaccompanied, Holly Humberstone forms a heart with her hands and permits herself the briefest of smiles.

This set has been an hour-long trust fall for the 22-year-old, Lincolnshire-raised singer-songwriter, who is being accompanied on her first tour of venues this size by a newly minted band and a helping of industry hype.

Humberstone’s music – sleek pop-rock and tasteful electronics that surf the ripples made by Maggie Rogers’ viral hit Alaska – chimed with the introspection of the pandemic, and she quickly went from relative anonymity to broadcasting late-night TV appearances from the garden of her family home. Subsequently, she was voted BBC Sound of … runner-up in 2021 and won the Brit rising star award the following year.

She admits to nerves throughout, but a minute into The Walls Are Way Too Thin she is away. Her band, drums and two guitars, one in the hands of a multi-instrumentalist who also covers bass and keys, are solid and unintrusive, pushing her vocals and keenly observed lyrics to the fore so as not to lose the intimacy of her earlier loop based solo approach.

Humberstone’s trebly rhythm playing adds a welcome point of difference when set against the gleaming exterior of her more driving songs, particularly the standout Overkill, while she is earnest and authentic during London Is Lonely, which viscerally conjures the anxiety of moving to the city. Can You Afford to Lose Me? is a quietly dramatic torch song, her ringing piano and hook cutting through swirling synths and vocal patches.

Much of Humberstone’s writing concerns growing up, and similarly there are moments tonight when she is grasping for something that’s not quite there. The mid-section is weighted towards ballads, sapping momentum and shining an unforgiving light on the melodically slight Friendly Fire and Haunted House. The feeling remains, though, that these are speed bumps on the road to somewhere else. Humberstone might be figuring out how she functions as a bandleader, but there’s plenty to suggest that she’ll crack the code sooner rather than later.

At O2 Leeds 23 Nov. Then touring until December 4.

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