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DAVID GRAY @ Riverside Theatre gets 9.5/10


David Gray @ Riverside Theatre

Sunday, April 14, 2019

9.5/10

It’s hard for me to separate David Gray from my childhood memories. They’re too intertwined. If I closed my eyes and listened to Gray’s White Ladder album, I could see how my mum used to dance over the stove on Christmas Day (almost always after a glass of champagne), or how on long road trips she would dangle both her feet out of the car window singing, with a cigarette between her fingers. For a time, Gray sat like a guest in the most intimate family memories I have.

It was cold on Sunday when I pulled into the underground parking at the Riverside Theatre, getting there early so I could people watch. I wanted to see who else loved the man performing a sideshow for the Bluesfest Festival. There were young people and their parents, groups of bustling UK men swigging beers, and married couples eagerly chatting. I watched as an array of older, dapper, checker-blazer wearing silver foxes and their gorgeous wives in Autumn colours waited calmly to head inside the theatre. It felt so calm amidst the woozy ripples of excitement any time a noise came over the loud speaker.


A sharp start at 8pm by Ward Thomas, a UK duo of twin sisters, introduced the evening. With the lights only subtlety dimmed, they looked quite small on the large stage. It was the first time they brought their slick country-pop to WA. From Cartwheels to the debut of Changing, I heard a strong recall to homegrown band The Waifs in their polished harmonies and simple melody changes. No Filter was their strongest song, toying with the concept of rejecting the normalised standard to filter one’s life on social media. It had a romantic communication tactic, with Ward Thomas cleverly articulating heart truths through a gospel vocation to their vocals. With only six songs on their setlist, it was hard to discern if they had won any new fans over that night before the crowd shrugged their way to the bar during the intermission.


By the time David Gray was due to start, there was a lingering smell of red wine around me. I remember thinking about the difference to this crowd and the crowd I stood in the night before. There was a resounding calm through the audience that I hadn’t seen before, like the entire room did one of those full-body sighs as you relax into your couch after a long day to get snuggly. The atmosphere was paired to the sweet taste of David Gray so elegantly with the light mouthy laughs over the soft background music. The room darkened as a blue mist flooded the stage.


When Gray stepped on stage with the band, the place broke into an uproar. Every move he made coaxed another catcall from the crowd. Gray, who walked to the piano looked shy amongst the bold reaction, but I was immediately wooed by his cute teethy smiles, as he said a quick hello. His intention was to introduce us to his newest album by playing five tracks from Gold in a Brass Age to begin with. It was a decision that could have gone two ways. Either the eager crowd would push for his renowned music or they would give the album the reflective justice it deserved. Cleverly, Gray addressed this by drenching orange light directly onto the seating. It was a harsh visceral light that forced many in the crowd to cover their eyes. He gave us the opportunity to internalise and separate our senses, whilst giving himself the freedom to feel like he wasn’t being watched too closely. This light effect meant Mallory was heard, not watched. The Sapling followed, and the light eased, but it wasn’t until Gold in a Brass Age played that I was really grabbed in a strong way. This new album is almost deceptively crafted to feel expansive with its musical directions during the yearning poetry that Gray guides in you. When I listened to the album separately, I didn’t see how many layers were weaved into the album yet with the guitarists and the drummers and the pianos sitting in front of me, I was knocked over. It easily could stand against his body of work without being swamped by his chart-topping albums. Like many of his other LPs, his voice was a soft cheese paired with a dry white wine that tasted like the quality of the Barossa Valley.


When the introduction to Sail Away commenced, the crowd burst open. My Oh My had the same reaction and every song after that. The crowd’s reaction was completely justified, too. Gray stretched each of his biggest songs by an extra two minutes, adding additional choruses and spending indulgent moments looping tracks live on stage. It worked so well and felt like there was a level of care and concentration placed into each track to make sure the audience fell in love with it all over again. After almost 20 years of playing tunes like Otherside and Please Forgive Me, I guess you would expect no less. Yet the seamless instrumental changes mid-song reinforced the level of care factored in by Gray. The melancholic nature of his vocals was only enhanced live, with his voice not wavering at all in comparison to his earlier stuff.


Sometimes you’ll see an artist that has been playing for a while look bored on stage. Sometimes you’ll see them shrug off the adoration of the crowd. Sometimes you’ll see a dorky dancer who doesn’t talk to you out of sheer concentration coax big wet tears out of your soul. Every note felt familiar and deliberate and seamless to the recorded elements. I felt adored by the fierceness of his perfectionism, and for that, the crowd and myself offered him two standing ovations after Please Forgive Me and This Year’s Love.

ANNIE MUNROE

Photos by Linda Dunjey

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