Written by Jane Ponte
A few years ago, I got a bit nervous when one of my favorite British artists, David Gray, released a “greatest hits” album. Quite often, this type of release is a prelude to an artist taking a reprieve from making new music or from touring for a while. It’s an opportunity for the artist to kick back for a bit and stay out of the limelight, recharge their batteries and take a break. This, of course, is always a good thing for the artist, and always well-deserved, but I’m selfish when it comes to David Gray. Fortunately for me and for the rest of his die-hard fans, that “greatest hits” album served only as a steppingstone to several epic albums that followed and seem to keep on coming. Since I look forward to each new release and every opportunity to see him perform live, and since Gray doesn’t play the USA as often as I’d like, I was thrilled to see him at Revention Music Center in Houston last Friday night, promoting his most recent album, “Gold in a Brass Age.”
Gray, a native of Cheshire, England who currently resides in London, is presently touring in support of his 12th album, which he released earlier this year. Friday night in Houston marked the first stop on the United States leg of the tour for Gray and his band, and they showed up raring to go and eager to play for a nearly full house. After a tender, noteworthy opening set by Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, Gray and his band took the stage and received a standing ovation from the excited fans down in front prior to uttering a single word or playing a note. It was clear that Houston was happy to have Gray in the house. From my seat in the 3rd row, I could see the genuine appreciation on Gray’s face as he basked in the adulation and love from his fans. I was really proud of the warm Texas welcome that Houston bestowed upon our talented visitor from London, and I somehow just knew that we were in for a really special night of music. We were not disappointed.
First up from Gray and his top-notch band was “Mallory,” his latest single from the new album. As Gray’s band played the first few notes, red lights splashed across the backdrop and an illuminated image appeared, which corresponded with the song’s powerful lyrics. As the song built to a crescendo, Gray’s intensity increased as well, and it was clear that he had his spellbound audience in the palm of his hand. By the song’s conclusion, I was wondering how on earth he was going to top this stunning opening track, and how he would keep this majestic momentum for the rest of the show. I didn’t have to wonder very long.
Gray’s brilliance and creativity continued to shine throughout the 6 songs that followed, all from his new album. Gray’s band, all accomplished musicians in their own rite, accompanied him perfectly and never missed a beat. At one point, during “Ridiculous Heart,” it was Gray who needed a do-over a couple of times as he attempted to loop his guitar at the beginning of the song. Gray, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, piano, harmonica and several other instruments, is known for often looping guitar, piano and vocals in his songs, and does so brilliantly. His creations often have a haunting, mesmerizing feel to them, and this new song and the ones that followed illustrated this perfectly. Although his long-time fans were eagerly anticipating hearing some of their favorites from Gray’s older material, the audience sat spellbound and speechless throughout Gray’s new material, which is every bit as good as his trademark tunes.
It wasn’t long, however, before Gray launched into the first classic of the evening, “Sail Away,” from his critically acclaimed release, “White Ladder” (1998). There was no doubt where the hearts of his fans lay, as cheering, clapping, and shouts of “I love you” echoed throughout the venue, with Gray and his band basking in the connection between his adoring fans and the music he has so lovingly and expertly created. What followed was basically a meeting of the hearts and minds of Gray, his band, his fans, and some newcomers as he delivered classic after classic, such as “My Oh My,” “Kathleen,” and “Silver Lining.” All of these songs were perfectly delivered with the passion and brilliance that Gray is known and loved for, but for this fan, the highlight had to have been when Gray played “Be Mine,” a catchy, tender love song from 2002’s “A New Day at Midnight.” Two couples near the front of the stage who apparently love this song as much as I do spontaneously got up from their seats and slow danced as they sang along, much to the approval of the folks around them, who made room. Even security did not stop this incredible display of fandom and joy as the 2 couples effortlessly swayed back and forth in front of Gray, who beamed with approval. It was indeed the gem of the evening for me, and it truly made the night all the more special than it already was.
After excusing his band for a bit, Gray entertained us with a 3-song solo set that included “Snow in Vegas” and “Flame Turns Blue.” I felt a lump in my throat as I sat mesmerized, wishing the night would never end. I was not to worry, because shortly after this mini-set, Gray’s band returned and delighted us with stunning renditions of “The One I Love” and “Life in Slow Motion,” along with a couple of other great songs to finish up this remarkable and wonderful night of music.
I knew the evening was nearly over when the band launched into the most moving version of “Babylon,” from “White Ladder,” that I’d ever had the pleasure and privilege to hear. Nearly every person in the venue was on their feet and singing along as this beautiful song came to an end. I felt a tinge of wistfulness throughout this spectacular and moving singalong, knowing that this iconic and supremely talented performer was about to leave us. Lucky for us, however, he and his band generously graced us with a 3-song encore that included “This Year’s Love,” and “Please Forgive Me,” to round out the evening. It was one of those magical moments that one wishes would last forever, and my heart was full of gratitude as the house lights came on and the show ended.
David Gray is truly one of the most passionate and finest artists making music today. He puts on a heartfelt, deeply personal, and lively show every time I see him. He doesn’t come around all that often, and so it is always a joy and a gift to see him perform when he’s in town. My heart is still full from Friday night’s performance, and I know that my life is richer because of Gray’s passion, grace, and songwriting craftsmanship. If you have never had the privilege of seeing this supremely talented performer in concert, you simply must put it on your bucket list. Truly, it will be an evening that will move you and inspire you to feel grateful and blessed. And if Friday evening’s show was any indication of what’s to come, David Gray is—fortunately for music fans everywhere–just getting started.