In an age of manufactured bands and singers, we sometimes find ourselves hungry for something more substantial. A sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden had that hunger filled on Jan. 31 by David Gray. He supplied the meal that nourished the mind, body and soul.
Gray’s US fans had waited nearly two years for his return, and his current tour is proving well worth the wait. Gray opened the show with “The Other Side,” a cut off of his new album A New Day at Midnight. Granted that most of Gray’s music is subdued, the crowd seemed even more so on that particular night. There was not one person in the section where I was sitting that stood up or sung along.
I was a little disheartened by the lack of emotion that I saw, but figured that the crowd needed a chance to warm up (literally and figuratively). I was partially right; it took three more songs to give those in attendance the jolt they needed, as well as a little push from Gray himself. The Garden was so calm and quiet, Gray made sure that the audience knew that “just because there are seats, doesn’t mean you have to use them.”
Who were these people? And why did they get tickets? As a fan, I genuinely felt bad for Gray. His child-like joy for performing at such an honored arena as MSG was unmistakable. But, somehow, half of those present seemed to look right through him.
Despite the size of MSG, Gray and his band successfully created a sense of intimacy. Flowing velvet curtains and tranquil images, such as a Ferris wheel in slow motion and raindrops on a moonlit sidewalk, displayed on a huge screen behind Gray, added to the atmosphere.
The only distraction was Gray’s very own drummer, who annoyingly twisted and twirled his sticks at all the wrong times. There were moments were he resembled a drowsy Muppet, hanging his entire body over his drum set. It’s no wonder they decided to place him off to the side of the stage, rather than the traditional straight on view.
A majority of the set list was taken from Gray’s debut album, White Ladder, which seemed to please the crowd. At times during the show, I found myself wondering if even two thirds of the people in attendance owned any other album besides White Ladder. I can safely assume that they didn’t. However, the other one third crowd was treated to a few songs off of Gray’s European albums, released in the early ’90s.
Gray carried on the personal feeling of the night by telling short stories before many of the songs. Before “Last Boat to America,” Gray reflected on his father’s recent passing. As he sung, “Make me a boat/away I’ll float/ into the stillness of a pure blue sky/ there’s nothing here to hold me now/ and I’ve got no more tears to cry,” you couldn’t help but feel his sorrow. It was a wonder Gray could bring such strong emotion and truth into such a large venue. Later in the show he dedicated his first song, “Shine,” to his manager, who promised him that one day he would play MSG.
One of the highlights of the show was the song “Babylon,” which earned Gray a Grammy nod in 2000. This was the song that everyone was waiting for and it was right on target. The audience was wild and the energy stayed present until the end of the show.
Gray wrapped things up with a song for the heart-broken, “Say Hello Wave Goodbye,” and just as the crowd thought the night was through, the band burst into the final number, “Please Forgive Me,” Gray’s second single off of Ladder. It was one of the most surprisingly adrenaline filled encores that I have experienced. The lazy crowd had finally woken.
Deservedly, Gray’s night was ended with a bang.