As anniversary shows become more and more of a staple for artists to main a few extra coin and celebrate their milestones, the world of live music is becoming a more and more nostalgic environment as artists take fans back in time to the moments when we connected with or fell in love with an act or a particular record, providing us an opportunity to hear those masterpieces played live from in their beautiful entirety.
This week saw it the turn of British songsmith David Gray who is busy celebrating not just the most successful record of a career that spans over 25 years, but one of the UK’s most celebrated releases with a 20-year anniversary tour of fourth album, White Ladder; albeit a few years later than initially expected – thank you once again COVID.
The last time I personally caught Gray on stage was at London’s Royal Festival Hall and I was absolutely blown away, so venturing into London’s iconic, and much larger O2 Arena, our expectations were held justifiably high. Thankfully we weren’t let down as Gray offered us a smorgasbord of career notables around the complete tracklisting of the genius that is White Ladder.
While a few upper sections of the venue were curtained off, preventing the show from being a true sell out, thousands of fans flocked to the Greenwich super venue to see the Brit icon deliver one of the highlight shows of his career. The show began considerably earlier than your usual Friday night arena concert, kicking off at 8pm with a 40-minute opener of career achievements that Gray has penned around his White Ladder release. Many attendees found themselves caught off guard as the venue announced that the show was about to begin while queuing for their drinks or doing pre-show catch ups with friends in the foyers.
Acting as his own support for the night, Gray emerged with his band and announced, “Welcome to this magnificent and enormous arena”; the singer clearly taken back by the sheer size of his performance space and the iconic stage that was set for his breadwinning collection; smiling from ear to ear throughout the show as he took us through some of his favourite numbers; key titles of particular personal fondness including opener, You Mean The World To Me, Be Mine, which he described as his “personal warm up song”, a gorgeous performance of The One I Love and Nemesis. The stage was stripped back to allow the singer and his band mates to really be the focal point and the music to take an undistracted lead.
Taking a 20-minute break that allowed punters to grab their next pint and also allow for the star to plug his efforts to help the declining Curlew population over big screen calls for donations, Gray returned at a little after 9.15 for the main, celebratory segment of the show.
Please Forgive Me cracked the lid on the White Ladder celebrations and after only one verse into the hit had his fans fill the arena with their backing vocals while the singer dominated the stage with his piano and smiled back to the crowd in awe of their adoration. The track that catapulted Gray into the mainstream, Babylon came next; the musician returning to the front of the stage for the number and playing his guitar with effortless precision; a grin beaming above his crisp white 70s inspired loose suit.
While a dedication of My Oh My was offered to his children – who, along with other members of his family were present at the show – White Ladder had fans up on their feet and dancing along with one of the more upbeat additions found within a generally sombre and ballad heavy night of music. The show played out like a greatest hits set but the true highlights came with a stellar performance of This Year’s Love which saw the venue filled with glowing phone lights, adding to the ballads raw and sentimental delivery, and Sail Away; another centerpiece single from the White Ladder record. Both were offered to the audience in their original form, like the majority of the numbers performed during the night; every adlib, hook and vocal inflection firmly in place, adding to the nights already overflowing sense of nostalgia.
With Gray’s self-penned numbers coming to a close, a surprise appearance by Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond found the pair joining forces to perform the Soft Cell number and closing cover of the White Ladder album, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye before turning the O2 into an 80’s inspired discotheque as they made their way through a full throttle rendition of Tainted Love; both sharing verses and Almond seemingly taking Gray’s lead on the track before Gray paid homage to David Bowie with complimenting covers of Life on Mars and Oh! You Pretty Things, capping the lid on a night of spectacular musicianship and top-class showmanship from an artist that has only gotten better as the years have gone by and is very clearly still loving his day job as much as fans adore seeing him perform.
You’re the World to Me
The Other Side
Flame Turns Blue
The one I love
Please Forgive Me
My Oh My
We’re Not Right
This Year’s Love
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (Soft Cell cover)
Tainted Love (Gloria Jones cover) with Marc
Life on Mars? (David Bowie cover)
Oh! You Pretty Things (David Bowie cover)
Please Forgive Me (Reprise)
::: RenownedForSound.com’s Editor and Founder –
Interviewing and reviewing the best in new music and globally recognized artists is his passion.
Over the years he has been lucky enough to review thousands of music releases and concerts and interview artists ranging from top selling superstars like 27-time Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss, Boyz II Men, Roxette, Cyndi Lauper, Lisa Loeb and iconic Eagles front man/songwriter, Glenn Frey through to more recent successes including Newton Faulkner, Janelle Monae and Caro Emerald.
Brendon manages and coordinates the amazing team of writers on RenownedForSound.com who are based in the UK, the U.S and Australia.