‘Babylon’ was one of the most beloved songs of the 2000s, and based on it’s airing tonight it still very much is so. David Gray may have moved on to new things, but the elegance of his arrangments and the oomph of his barritone, landing at times like a winding punch, is undiminished.
Gray is touring new album Gold in a Brass Age and dedicated the first segment of the show to new material. For the first few songs David Gray delighted the crowd by playing a succession of tiny instruments: first a ukelele on ‘The Sapling’, then a teeny approximation of a fender. We were hoping for a tiny drum kit or one of those minature trumpets to follow. None did.
Gray used these instruments to create an opening tone, which he then built upon with live looping. It was an impressive technical feat – and one moment, where he hummed into the strings of the ukelele and recorded the resulting echoes, was spine tingling.
This speaks to Gray’s current musical pallete which can be best described as King of Limbs-ish – muted acoustics, humming synths, programmed fluttering drum patterns. It’s very pretty, especially when combined with big choruses – as on ‘Gold in a Brass Age’.
However starting every song with live looping and sampling leads to a lot of dead air, and means that the first segment of the show lacks flow, even where the songs are all cut from the same record.
The arrival of the gorgeous ‘Sail Away’, the first run-out from the smash White Ladder, signals the injection of earlier work into the set. From here there’s a lot more variety: some solo numbers, a Dylan cover, full band tunes and ballads too. Some are heartbreaking – the powerful solo piano take of ‘The Other Side’ booms with potency, while some are chirpy and charming.
Some solo numbers may have worked better as full band pieces – ‘The One I Love’ & ‘Be Mine’ allow for some great interplay between band and singer. However they still pack a resounding whallop – the high notes on the former rattle the rafters. David Gray is in tremendous voice, stretching his full range with ease. It seems like the past twenty years only happened to other people.
By the time the shows closes out on four song, three of which are White Ladder standouts – the definitive ‘Babylon’, the gorgeous ‘This Year’s Love’ and ‘Please Forgive Me’ the crowd are on their feet. This last track in particular allows for some fantastic individual performances from the band and a sufficiently epic close.
David Gray is still the best at what he does.