26th April | O2 Academy

Photo: Kevin Tuyen

“I used to hear a voice when I was praying / But nowadays, I don’t even wanna be saved,” the twenty-year-old spits over those iconic, chilling backing vocals and twanging keys. Dave has finally entered centre stage at the O2 Academy, standing tall and bold in front of a flaming blue skull. One minute into opener ‘Psycho’ and the crowd of generation Snapchat is almost at breaking point; that quick tempo flip hits at about two-and-a-half minutes and the entire audience erupts, shaking the foundations of the building.

Dave is the conductor of his own orchestra on stage. His lyrics are cut from his breakthrough debut album PSYCHODRAMA; each word impregnated with a sense of bitterness, of lingering pain and unresolved personal issues, and the way he delivers them individually to each member of his crowd makes them feel like they apply to us too. Deep, reverberating sub bass gives his live rendition of ‘Streatham’ far more layers than on record, and without him confiding in us mid-way through about his laryngitis, you’d never have known he wasn’t feeling 110%.

The midsection of Dave’s set delves deeper into his emotionally-driven narrative, firing ‘Black’ on all cylinders with accompanying visuals of prominent faces through the ages: a glimpse of black oppression, past and present. It’s baffling to me that anyone had anything other than a positive reaction to this track at its initial release ahead of the album. “Look, black is beautiful, black is excellent,” he says frankly, shedding another layer of himself for our consumption. It’s celebratory of his experience – he doesn’t try to box all black experiences into a short four minutes, but makes the most of every second to show us his core.

Back to his audience, one of whom he plucks out of the front row to join him on stage for ‘Thiago Silva’,  a fan-favourite released back in 2016 with AJ Tracey. It’s one for the real die-hard fans, all of whom seem to be present on this Friday night, loyally reciting his tracks word-for-word and chanting “Santan!” at any given pause in the set. At first the venue felt like football derby day in Manchester, each fan scrambling to get but a faint whiff of the action. But throughout his set, Dave spent time with each member of his audience individually, satiating the listener’s desire to be seen and to be heard.

Dave ended his hour-long set with chart-topping ‘Funky Friday’. It’s the final burst of euphoria to end the perfect emotional rollercoaster.

See the video for ‘Black’ here: