A relatable, compelling character, Dave has taken an artistic career path that has seen him going from freestyler to Mercury Prize winner in a short space of time. The rapper, musician, producer and songwriter is far from easy to pin down, and with good reason.
Destined for glitz and glamour he may be, but there is real substance to his rise to fame. An inspiring social commentator, he has the unique gift for voicing, not just the issues facing his own community, but he also knows how to articulate society matters of relevance.
And tonight he just so happens to headline Main Stage East at Reading Festival. The stark vibes of set opener ‘We’re All Alone’ are temporarily dissolved in favour of ‘Professor X’, a track that infiltrates the instantly recognisable, hugely popular song ‘Streatham’, and it does so to enthused cheers.
The performance is in part compiled to show the rapper’s expansive musicality. Providing his own instrumental contribution to tonight’s events, the musician plays keyboard and guitar during the set.
Performing to a crowd of loyal fans the set is versatile and varied. Playing to rap and rock fans with measured skill, the ‘7 Nation Army’ intro to ‘Thiago Silva’ is smart and unexpected, and combined with AJ Tracey’s appearance the delivery becomes snappy and explosive. Just what’s wanted. Inserting a cover of Headie One’s ‘18Hunna’, the stimulating quality of Dave’s set continues with a raw, dramatic version of ‘Twenty To One’.
Dave clearly knows and demonstrates that sincerity and honestly go a long way. Pausing for a few seconds mid-set before continuing he admits “this is the craziest moment of my life so far”, to which the crowd response with emotive applause. It’s the deepest moment of reflection and emotion at Reading so far.
Offering style and innovation creative directors’ TAWBOX stage design impresses with tasteful video projections and a vivid lighting display. It’s a feast that’s easy on the eye and appropriate for a Friday night headline set, all-inclusive of the confetti and pyrotechnics that are provided.
Stormzy’s guest stage appearance for ‘Clash’ is intensely engaged, and of the sort you perhaps wish there had been a bit more of on such a celebratory Friday night.
But it seems rather petty to pick on such minor aspects of a Dave’s arresting show, especially given the fact that it has been a credible musical triumph, because that really is the best word for what we just witnessed.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photography: Ben McQuaide