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Could you please explain me why past perfect in this sentence? I think past simple can fit too?

Is it to emphasize the completion of the playing?

The reference time is now so play should be past simple

A year ago Rhodes had played just a handful of live shows. Now, 12 months later, he is something of a veteran, having supported Sam Smith, London Grammar, Laura Marling, Nick Mulvey and Rufus Wainwright.

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A year ago Rhodes had played just a handful of live shows.

In this sentence reference time is not "now" but a point in the past, a year ago. At that point the handful of live shows already lay in the past; and past-in-past is expressed with the past perfect. Simple past, "A year ago Rhodes played a handful of shows" would mean that he played them at that time rather than before that time.

It is not until the second sentence that the reference time is equated with speech time, "now". Now he is (present) a veteran because he has supported many more artists.

Here's a timeline:

                            a year ago                           now
                            ↓                                    ↓
 ---------------------------+------------------------------------+-----------  
 ↑-- in this timespan he --↑   ↑--in this timespan he supports--↑
   plays a handful of live         Sam Smith, London Grammar, 
            shows                          and others
| improve this answer | |
  • It is crystal clear now great answer – user5577 Sep 27 '14 at 17:18

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