Dave live at Reading Festival 2022 review: a statement-making set from the youngest ever solo headliner

Reading Festival, August 26: currently operating at the peak of his powers, the London artist's headline set pairs introspective moments with chart-topping hits

Dave should be lauded as a national treasure; a calming, tenacious force in the budding UK rap scene, he’s evolved with it to become one of its most beloved and talented stars. He is at once radically truthful about the state of the nation, but equally able to let loose and have a good time. And at this year’s Reading Festival, he’s “so happy” to be the youngest-ever solo headliner, aged just 24. Who wouldn’t be after releasing his mesmerising second album, ‘We’re All Alone In This Together’ earlier this year to rave reviews, and countless chart hits? The Streatham native relishes the chance to air these cuts in a festival headline set as momentous as this one.

His show rises to the occasion: Dave opens to the sombre ‘We’re All Alone’, accompanied by a live band and a twisted metal cage to resemble a broken heart. Whilst the live band is dressed in black and even the screen visuals are in black and white, Dave pops out in a colourful denim two-piece; a stark contrast. Throughout, he calls upon a strings quartet to up the drama. He’s musical talent is no secret, too, and less than ten minutes into his set he’s on the keys, solo, crafting a beautiful melody to end his first track.

Dave at Reading Festival 2022. Credit: Andy Ford for NME

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But there’s lots more to come. “I wanna take you guys on a journey,” Dave says before a medley of grandiose live renditions of his early viral tracks like 2017’s ‘Samantha’ and the Drake co-signed ‘Wanna Know’. It’s all because “there’s so many people here, I feel like it’s only right to go back to the very start”. This fun section ends with Dave’s first Top 40 hit, ‘No Words’ from 2017 EP ‘Game Over’, and the crowd roar the chorus back to him.

Speaking of throwback Dave tracks and, after being teased by the crowd chanting “Oh, Thiago Silva” to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’, the earthy 808s and zippy synths of his popular grime track ‘Thiago Silva’ lands with aplomb. His longtime friend and collaborator on the track, Ladbroke Grove’s AJ Tracey pops out to perform with him before his set on the main stage later this weekend.

We’re plunged into darkness for the reciting of ‘Heart Attack’; a track where the south Londoner reflects on the Britain that we live in today. Later in his set, he punctuates this sentiment by, what he calls, simply, “playing the piano whilst he talks”. There he calls out the UK government: “The people who are running this country aren’t fundamentally good people… I pray that the next generation can do better”.

Dave at Reading Festival 2022
Credit: Andy Ford/NME

For the penultimate track, ‘Clash’, Dave goes for it, making you think rap juggernaut Stormzy wouldn’t come out to do his verse. But halfway through, the Croydon rapper does so with comical white heart-shaped sunglasses on, jogging all over the stage. The pair pulled this trick during Stormzy’s Reading headline show last summer, but this time feels cheekier with Stormzy’s energy and the crowd screaming “Don’t die for nyash” unanimously.

As the crowd walk away thinking that’s it, Dave calls us out: “Hold on, you might have to hold your places as we have one more thing to do”. That thing is ‘Starlight’; his first UK Number One. As the wheezy sampled track fills the air, the crowd rap along knowing this is Dave’s farewell, and is a star at the pinnacle of the career. With such gratitude, Dave smiles big showing us his sliver-capped teeth, as he thanks us for coming to his history-making set. The stillness of his set makes it a special one to round out an otherwise rowdy first day.

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Dave played:

‘We’re All Alone’
‘Professor X’
‘Funky Friday’
‘Wanna Know’
‘No Words’
‘Heart Attack’
‘Thiago Silva’
’18HUNNA’
‘System’
‘Location’
‘Twenty to One’
‘Both Sides of a Smile’
‘Clash’
‘Starlight’

Reading & Leeds 2022 continues today with performances from Arctic MonkeysBring Me The Horizon and more.

Check back at NME here for the latest news, reviews, photos, interviews and more from Reading & Leeds 2022.

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