I first heard of Noah Kahan in a cave in France this summer, when my 23-year-old daughter started wailing with distress at realising she had missed the chance to buy tickets to see him because she was in a cave when they went on sale (two shows at the Forum sold out in seconds). Kahan, a 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Vermont, has so far made very little impact on the world of the over-thirties, but his contemporaries and those a little younger adore him. If you Google reviews, you won’t find very much from the traditional music press or from big newspapers and magazines – but you’ll find plenty from student papers.
What they like so much about him is a little mysterious. He plays in a style identified by one Twitter wag as ‘stomp clap hey’: a little bit folky, a little bit raucous. Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers were the pioneers of ‘stomp clap hey’. It involves a lot of stomping, clapping and shouting ‘hey’.
Kahan had a four-piece band on stage to add a bit of muscle (there were guitar solos, accompanied by gurning, for those doubting his rock chops). He was a witty stage presence: ‘I’ve been given this amazing platform,’ he noted early in the show, ‘and it would be wrong not to use it to make you feel shittier about yourselves.’ But that wit doesn’t get employed in his lyrics, which tend to be about some combination of prescription drugs, heartbreak, self-loathing and living in Vermont. As my daughter put it: he’s got sad songs, and he’s got sadder songs.
It’s all very #relatable: Kahan’s songs – each of them echoed back to him by an uncomfortably crowded room – portrayed life as a series of low-key melodramas, which is certainly how I thought of my life in my early twenties.