David Gray

Music Reviews David Gray

If you’ve ever been to New York City, you immediately become aware of the constant bustle, the full-speed-ahead rhythm of life. Horns are angrily honking, tires screeching, everywhere words (pleasant and harsh) are being exchanged—sounds building toward an unseen climax. David Gray’s last three albums seem to suggest a movement away from this kind of lifestyle; the techno beats and upbeat ballads of White Ladder have been replaced by slow motion, spiraling piano opuses.

But sorrow is not always a bad thing. It creates tension in songwriters, moving them to confront the feeling lyrically. In fact, the drearier Gray’s music gets, the better it becomes. “Nos Da Cariad” is one of the finest examples from his latest album, Life in Slow Motion. A dour song with an up-tempo beat, it includes the lyric “A bucketful of Babylon / a belly full of hate.” Gray is still torn between the happiness of his past successes (White Ladder) and life’s tragedies (the death of his father).

Tonight, Gray and his five-piece rock orchestra—an ethereal female vocalist who plays the electric cello, a guitarist/keyboardist, a guitarist/pump-organist/programmer, a drummer and a bassist—are playing Radio City Music Hall in midtown Manhattan. This isn’t your average rock ’n’ roll venue: 84-foot terraced ceilings, 25,000 house lights and the largest gold stage curtain in the world. But this isn’t your average crowd, either: the absence of the grubby hipster or rich college kid is slightly disconcerting—everyone in attendance seems older and dressed nicely for the occasion.

As the house lights dim and applause fills the auditorium, Gray and band bound onto the stage, the former donning a matching suit jacket and pants. A roadie hands him an open-tuned guitar, and he begins strumming the first lines of “The One I Love,” one of the more upbeat tracks on his latest album, Life in Slow Motion. The crowd members—at first feverish with excitement—promptly takes their seats once the show begins.

And there they remain for the majority of the evening. I had the strangest sinking feeling in my gut throughout the concert: should I be standing up and dancing or sitting down? With most everyone seated, it felt as if we were watching a movie of a live performance. Was this too grand a venue for an artist known best for his aching piano ballads? Gray doesn’t belong in the same ego-laden, U.K. Britpop category as Coldplay and Oasis—this isn’t “Clocks” or “Don’t Look Back In Anger” territory. Gray needs a smaller venue, where cigarette lighters (are allowed to) burn during slow songs and where the crowd’s sing-alongs don’t get lost in the rafters.

Despite the crowd’s lack of energy, Gray turns in a solid performance—whether seated at his piano or strumming his acoustic guitar and rocking his head from side to side. He nails every note along the way, and the sound is pristine. Ironically, the set hits a highpoint during the beautiful “Slow Motion.” Accompanied by the close harmonies of his drummer, Gray glides through the song.

The seated crowd finally springs to life when it hears the first chords of “Please Forgive Me,” proving White Ladder the obvious crowd favorite. Still, the biggest applause is for “Silver Lining” (which begins with a cello solo) and “This Year’s Love” (which summons huge cheers after every verse). But perhaps the best summation of the evening comes from Gray’s comments during his biggest hit and the final number of the night, “Babylon.” He somewhat playfully quips that the song “requires a bit of audience participation.”

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