Live Review: Tom Chaplin at Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC – 17th January 2017

By on Thursday, 19th January 2017 at 2:00 pm

This time 2 years ago, Keane frontman Tom Chaplin took his first steps towards sobriety. Finally reaching a wall, he made the decision to stop using drugs after a prolonged period of substance abuse, which was sparked by self-doubt and anxiety towards making his first solo record. Well on the road to recovery and following the North American release last Friday of his poignant yet hopeful LP ‘The Wave’, Chaplin made a stop Tuesday evening in Washington, performing at the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street in Northwest. It was his first time back in the Nation’s Capital since Keane’s last visit in 2012. It’s only natural that anyone who had previously seen Keane live would compare this performance to those past shows. As the charismatic lead singer whose dark backstory we knew little about until recently, Tom Chaplin was the face of wonderment, the killer voice propelling the tunes of his bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley.

While Keane songs were of course included in the mix to appease long-time fans, there were some obvious differences to how they were presented to us. Rice-Oxley’s animated, bombastic piano playing, for instance on upbeat track ‘Bend & Break’, had been a mainstay of the Keane sound. I noticed that during this show, while the piano was clearly there backing Chaplin, its presence felt slightly muted, making it clear it was Chaplin’s voice that was the star of the evening. Similarly, when ‘Crystal Ball’ made its appearance before the encore, his energetic leaps and bounds across the stage, reminiscent of the Keane days – to the delight of fans, of course – the focus of attention was unequivocally on Chaplin and the sheer vocal power he still delivers.

Tom Chaplin Lincoln Theatre 2017 2

Time, and I suppose a self-realisation of just how precious life is, has only strengthened his vocal abilities. While I questioned some of the lighting choices – seriously, who wants to be blinded by the stage lights for a song called ‘Bring the Rain’? – and Chaplin seemed uncomfortable singing early Keane single ‘Everybody’s Changing’ (nerves? bad memories?), these were minor quibbles, given the otherwise pretty much peerless performance. ‘I Remember You’ proved to be the ultimate combination, a track full of energy and audience handclaps, while giving him the perfect showcase for his dynamic vocal acrobatics.

His backing band, whom Chaplin himself put together last summer, are an incredibly tight unit for a group who have been together only a short time. More importantly, they offer something wonderfully different to what we might have otherwise expected at a Keane gig. Twin violins on ‘Bedshaped’ was an unexpected, unique way to present a classic Keane song. The band all joined in on the harmonies for inspirational title track ‘The Wave’; I was impressed by the richness of their combined vocals.

Guitarist Tobie Tripp and keyboardist Beau Holland provided acoustic backing to Chaplin’s soaring vocals on ‘Bound Together’ to open the encore. This bonus track, along with an audience reception to ‘Better Day’ so loud and rousing that he said he had to release this song as a single, provided additional highlights of the night. Imagine a cross between the themes of ‘On the Road’ and ‘Day Will Come’ from Keane’s 2012 album ‘Strangeland’, and you’ll get the idea. Chaplin dedicated ‘Solid Gold’ and the particularly poignant ‘Hold On to Our Love’ from the album to his long-suffering wife, the strong woman who has stood by his side through thick and thin.

Tom Chaplin Lincoln Theatre 2017 1

Though he shared with the audience that he had received bad news the day before that was making him “sad and lonely” and missing home, Chaplin didn’t for one moment let this affect his performance. It seems appropriate that for what Chaplin has been through, hitting rock bottom and having to claw his way back to some sense of normalcy, these struggles and successes he chronicles on ‘The Wave’, all of this has prepared him for the bumps as these in the road in life while staying sober. For him to share with us what he’s learned, the pain he’s endured as well as the amazing insights, it’s truly a priceless gift. Chaplin seemed truly humbled by the reception to his return to Washington, thanking the crowd quite a few times for providing the kind of personal connection that he said was the best medicine to soften the loneliness he had been feeling. It seems like such a small gesture from the fans, considering how for over a decade his famous voice has comforted and thrilled Keane’s worldwide legion of devotees. Am I looking forward to the next Tom Chaplin album? You bet.

Chaplin’s North American tour continues tonight at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom; for all his world live dates announced for the rest of the year, visit his official Web site. Catch up on my in-depth interview with Tom the week before the release of ‘The Wave’ in the UK through here.

After the cut: Tom Chaplin’s set list for the night.

Tom Chaplin Set List:
Still Waiting
Hardened Heart
Bend & Break (Keane)
Solid Gold
I Remember You
Solid Gold
Silenced By the Night (Keane)
Hold On to Our Love
Clear Skies (Keane)
Worthless Words (Tom Chaplin solo and on piano)
Bring the Rain
Bedshaped (Keane)
The River
Better Day
Sovereign Light Café (Keane)
The Wave
Crystal Ball (Keane)
Bound Together (acoustic)
Everything’s Changing (Keane)
See It So Clear

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