David Gray’s music has been loved for over two decades, so it’s little surprise that he has had two performances lined up at Sydney’s State Theatre.
On the second night of his Sydney residency, the English singer-songwriter stepped onto his stage with a simple yet effective lighting system and highly proficient band to begin the evening with Birds Of the High Arctic. It became clear quickly from Gray’s bare vocals and piano skills that he was able to provide an intimacy more suited to a living room performance, in the cavernous, all-seated State Theatre. After vocal effects depicting icy, unforgiving Arctic environments, Gray’s energy ultimately couldn’t been contained. His head convulsed, before he stood up from the piano and went into rock-god mode by strutting with his mic stand. This was an opener with a kick and the crowd already lapped it up.
This energy persisted through to the exuberant Cake and Eat It and the title track off the new album,. Gray’s left leg wouldn’t stop twitching as he stood whilst playing guitar, and he eventually unleashed a hard-hitting harmonica solo over a rockier, dramatic climax that brought the house down early in the set. Silver Lining had Gray working the crowd, as he put his hand on his heart.
Unfortunately for David Gray fans, the performer announced that this tour to support his latest studio effort Mutineers would be his last big-scale tour. After the shock came the shimmering, evocative and piano-driven Gulls and My Oh My, which had Gray exuding confidence as he hopped around on his guitar like a toy and waved his hands about like he didn’t care. The vibrant The One I Love projected a starry, infectious energy during the performance, backed by purple and red lights and Gray’s almost flawless falsetto. The Other Side ran just a little longer than needed due its repetitive outro, though the track (along with a lovely cover of the Bee Gees’ pre-disco deep cut Morning of My Life) add a bit of much needed melancholy to not make the setlist so light.
The final third of the concert heavily featured the big hits from Gray’s breakthrough fourth LP White Ladder. The stunning This Year’s Love brought on cheers of recognition from the whole room, which swayed with every syllable on this plaintive piano ballad. Gray handled the crowd well, even humouring drunken hecklers, providing a story here and there and encouraging the crowd to free themselves from their seats on the escapade-worthy Sail Away. Please Forgive Me kept up the fun and joy to close the main set.
Of course, the majestic Babylon was the first encore. Done as a solo acoustic guitar performance by Gray, this song remained mesmerising in its simplicity and beauty even without the drum machine of the ‘folk-tronica’ original. Alibi felt symphonic yet the audience could imagine ‘running wild’ with the performance. Finally, Nemesis kept things tempered before the band unexpectedly erupted and finished the concert on an emphatic note.
It’s a shame that David Gray may not bring back a full band back on tour again. It added spice to the studio originals, particularly on the rockier tracks and songs where the touring band’s cellist had the spotlight on her. Gray himself was an entertaining musician to see and hear, and made this an enjoyable night for all.
Birds Of the High Arctic
Back In the World
Cake and Eat It
My Oh My
The One I Love
The Other Side
Morning of My Life (Bee Gees cover)
Snow in Vegas
This Year’s Love
Flame Turns Blue
Please Forgive Me