David Gray at the Orpheum
Photo credit: Lydia London
In the two decades since the breakout international success of White Ladder, David Gray’s musicianship has consistently developed new angles, refusing to stand on those hit laurels. Yet, even with this perpetually evolving approach, it’s still his unmistakable vocal prowess that remains the basis of his enduring appeal. For a near-capacity Friday crowd, Gray’s voice remained as affecting and honest as ever, as his four-piece band attacked a varied repertoire with attention to detail, lush three and four-part harmony, and a striking balance of skill and sentiment.
The first third of the evening was dominated by entries from his exceptional latest album, Gold in a Brass Age, and Gray’s generous use of looping delay pedals. Bouncing between acoustic guitar and his keyboard, often within the same song, he opened with a slate of new tracks, leading with “Mallory,” and “The Sapling,” with an ebullient Gray dancing almost involuntary to the revolving grooves. He prefaced “It’s Late” with a dedication to his teenage daughter, including an anecdote, separate but related, of her tardiness, and a nod of gratitude to Londonboy Tattooer’s illustrations that grace the album’s booklet, and were projected above the group onstage.
It was as Gray strummed the instantly familiar chords to “Sail Away,” though, where the night turned down what he described as a memory lane that keeps getting longer. He worked in a brooding “My Oh My,” and the bouncy release of “Be Mine,” buffering that with “Freedom”- the latter two being from Ladder’s follow-up, A New Day at Midnight. This was no exercise in nostalgia, however, but an opportunity instead to revisit some catalog rarities.
With his cap tipped to local college radio station, KCRW, he dug 25 years back for “The Light,” and, from ’05, unearthed the deep cut “From Here You Can Almost See The Sea.” He sat alone at the keyboard on the foreboding “The Other Side,” and joked that he could easily slip into an Elton John vamp. He played a beautiful solo acoustic “Shine,” one of the show’s peaks, and brought the band back as they closed with a string that included a reflective “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” a rocking “The One I Love,” and the stand-up-and-sing-along closer of all closers for Gray, “Babylon.”
Still, the two-song encore had more to give. Gray delivered sweetly a patient “This Year’s Love,” before the full band rallied for the finale, “Please Forgive Me,” and its clap-along coda, bringing the house to its feet, and Gray shouting his thank-yous to bandmates and audience barely above the din. In all, with his singular, generational voice, sterling musicianship from a blade-sharp ensemble, joyful and poetic songwriting, and dollops of humor and charm, it was a two-hour concert that from beginning to end showcased all that continues to be David Gray.