Tom O'dell

Just a Man and His Piano

Story By: Emma Kalka

Photos By: Argus Paul Westbrock

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There’s something to be said about a man who can capture an entire audience for over an hour with nothing more than a piano and a bare stage.

Tom Odell is certainly one of those men.

In his first concert in Seoul, he brought out the crowds to Bluesquare’s I-Market Stage on March 18, all of who were completely enraptured from the moment his fingers hit the first key. It was a subdued concert - no raucous dancing, but certainly a few cheers here and there. But that didn’t mean the entire hall wasn’t filled with music. It’s incredible the sounds he can create with just the keys, his voice, and the occasional stomping of his foot.

After opening with “Grow Old with Me” from his debut album Long Way Down, Odell took the audience on a journey through all three of his LP releases. Thrilling the audience by greeting them with several Korean phrases, he then explained that he wanted to do something special for his first concert in the country.

“I’m going to start from the beginning and go through all three of my albums,” he said. “This first song I wrote when I was living in Brighton in a small apartment about the size of this piano.” 

He then launched into “Behind the Rose,” which he said was about growing up and being homesick. 

The night included some of his favorites, with Odell frequently taking the time in between songs to explain the meaning behind them, or to just chat with the audience. He was endearing and at times adorably awkward, sometimes seeming to run out of something to say, so he just jumped into the next song.

He shared stories about his trip to Seoul - including hiking up Namsan and then getting blisters after walking for about 10 miles one day. During another break, he joked with the audience that he used to drink wine while performing, but now he drinks vodka.

“Just kidding. That’s water. Never put water on a piano,” he quipped.

The lineup included “Sirens” - he said he wrote it when he lived in between a hospital and a police station and he would sit up at night imagining who the nameless, faceless people were that the sirens were going to. “Constellations” from his second album got one of the largest reactions from the audience. He even deviated from the setlist, playing a song shouted out from the audience (“Skim”), though he humbly said he didn’t play it often and struggled to remember the lyrics from time to time.

Needless to say, he performed it flawlessly, or at least if there were mistakes, the audience certainly didn’t notice or care. Even when he did accidentally flub a key or two, he took it all in stride, often adding fun flourishes to the end of the song to make up for it.

He then performed “Magnetized,” which took on a more emotional tone in the unstripped version than it does on the album, followed by “If You Want to Love Somebody,” and “Don’t Belong in Hollywood.”

The concert came to an end with Odell performing a song he wrote two weeks ago called “Tears That Never Dry.” He explained before starting that he wasn’t even sure if it was finished yet, and it could go “terribly wrong,” but he wanted to share it anyway. Following that, he had the crowd clapping and singing along with “Another Love” - perhaps his biggest single to date.

But as he said, many beautiful things cannot last forever. Even though the crowd was crying for an encore, the show ended there. Though in my opinion, it was the best way it could end. On a high note, with everyone - myself included - begging for more.

Despite the concert taking place in a large hall, Odell has a way about him when he performs that makes you feel as though it’s just you and him in a small room. His show was intimate - almost as though you were sitting in the living room of his flat, listening as he played and sang his heart out. It was simple - just some special lighting, but nothing fancy that could detract from the music.

There is a raw emotion to his music, and Odell is certainly talented on the stage, knowing exactly when to ebb and flow. And knowing what will appeal to the audience. He peppered a number of Korean phrases throughout with decent pronunciation, though even if he had flubbed them, the audience was so in love with him, they would have cheered anyway. He is a spirited pianist and it was hard to believe that all that sound and energy was coming from just one man at times. Even I sat up and peered closer several times, wondering if there was a drum hidden somewhere on the stage before realizing it was just Odell stomping in time with the music.

When I wasn’t lost in a song-inspired daydream, that is. 

It was a strong first concert, and as Tom said during the show, hopefully the start of a beautiful relationship that will bring him back for more in the future.

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Sean Choi