Listen to David Gray's Life In Slow Motion on JamBase Rhapsody!

Words & Images by Robert Massie

David Gray & Aqualung :: 03.03.06 :: Palace Theater :: Cleveland, OH

David Gray :: 03.03

When American icon and instructional painter Bob Ross passed away in 1995, the teachings he shared with millions of aspiring artists did not die with him. Every week, this mellow maharishi would grace public broadcasting with his amiable attitude and ample afro, somehow managing to turn lessons about art into lessons about life. Ross' tutelage was certainly profound; he never ceased to transform brushstrokes into pearls of wisdom such as "nature does not like even numbers - trees need friends too," "there are no mistakes, only happy accidents," and "nothing can brighten your day quicker than a ray of sunshine." Sadly, Ross never lived to see the rise of an English entertainer who enthralls almost any audience by inadvertently expressing and embodying many congruent philosophies. The same year the world lost this soft-spoken scenographer, singer David Gray's sophomore album Flesh was every music critic's darling. However, Flesh lacked the traction stateside that it was enjoying in Europe, and David Gray's rocket sputtered before takeoff.

David Gray :: 03.03

Since then, things have totally changed, and that's putting it mildly. Today, Gray consistently plays to packed houses all around the country and has reached iconic status. As for his true appeal, it wouldn't be hard to argue that David Gray's draw lies in the fact that he epitomizes the concept of natural expression and emotion in music. After becoming the top selling artist of all time in Ireland (edging out his predecessor Van Morrison and even atomic bomb-dismantling U2), David Gray is finally poised to enjoy similar success in America. His new album Life in Slow Motion is without a doubt his most ambitious project yet. While at first listen, it lacks the stripped-down intimacy of his earlier works, the messages behind the orchestration and production help frame the album and make it suitable for display in any musical museum in the country. Cleveland's famed Palace Theater in historic Playhouse Square played host to Gray's one-of-a-kind performance on a Friday night full of glitter and glitz. By the end of the evening, Gray had presented a palette of pigments and brilliant brushstrokes on his consonant canvas. And without disrespect to the late Bob Ross' tidbits of wisdom, that portrait conveyed an undeniably vivid message – David Gray's music is certainly one thing that can brighten anyone's day quicker than a ray of sunshine.

Aqualung :: 03.03

Another British pop crooner named Aqualung (AKA Matt Hales) opened the show with one of the standout tracks off his Still Life debut album. "Another Little Hole" was haunting and beautiful, and Aqualung instantly accomplished a near impossible feat by establishing a clear and certain connection with the audience through a song focused on feelings of disconnection. As his piano progression danced along with his quiet vocals in a delicate decrescendo, the audience's appreciation swelled. "Easier to Lie" allowed his backing band to step up and was upbeat in every aspect but its message, as Hales casually sang, "And honestly, to look you in the eye - it's easier to lie." The next highlight, "You Turn Me Around," was particularly powerful, especially from the vantage point of the very last row of the 3,000-seat theater. From this perspective, Hales' irrefutable charm and truly gifted delivery were beyond question. The strength of his performance lied in his ability to make the audience feel involved, and consequently, the theater felt smaller and more intimate. He took a moment to further his rapport and display his mastery of that legendary English charm by responding to an overly-vocal fan with "I love you too, in a general way. I mean we're all members of mankind," before introducing a "love song for Cleveland." His hit single "Brighter than Sunshine" closed his set, and whether unknowingly or intentionally, served as a perfect fanfare and introduction to David Gray.

David Gray :: 03.03

Although he prefers to work with a different medium altogether, David Gray's approach to his performance this particular evening was not unlike the process a painter employs to create a scene. The first half of the show was his way of sketching his idea, creating a blueprint for his colors to eventually fill in. Sporting a finely tailored grey suit and button-down shirt, Gray emerged looking like he was dressed for a Friday business power-lunch more than a concert, but throughout the evening his casual rapport with the crowd more than made up for his formal attire. Gray didn't waste any time, throwing a handful of ticker-tape and glitter high in the air and launching into "Alibi," the new single from Life in Slow Motion. The result was a stage that was sparkling and sheen, almost reminiscent of New Years in Times Square, but it was the music that dazzled like daybreak. "Sail Away" from Gray's hugely successful White Ladder album (available on JamBase Rhapsody) was next and found Gray switching from keyboard to guitar and pouring his heart into the performance. The blue lights switched to yellow, and "Hospital Food" followed with its poignant lyrics, "Seeing it all so beautiful - the way it oughta be." Gray was off to a tremendous start, illustrating and punctuating his performance with symphonic splendor. "Nos Da Cariad" (Welsh for "Goodnight Sweetheart") was another early highlight, as Gray's minor, piano-driven intro exploded into a huge chorus and refrain. "The One I Love" finished the first half of the set, its stark lyrics about dying standing in stark contrast with Gray's flashy flambeau.

David Gray :: 03.03

The second half of Gray's show was again filled with a nice mixture of classics and new material. By this point, Gray was feverishly yet masterfully adding solid blocks of color to his design, his work taking form as something equally as expressive as impressionistic. Even longtime fans had no idea what to expect this time around, as the production of the new album has really taken his sound to another plane. They were pleasantly surprised, though, as this newer, bigger sound was well represented and apparently had brought in new fans while revitalizing aficionados' interest in seeing how well it would intermingle with previous work. "Disappearing World" was beautiful, as Gray's slow progression unwrapped to reveal a brilliant blaze of pure color and personality. "Please Forgive Me" was huge as always and was probably the best-received song of the evening. Gray danced around the stage and encouraged the fans to get on their feet as blue and red lights reflected off him, resembling a resplendent ray splitting through a prism. "Long Distance Call" was another treat, as the lighting geniuses that illuminate Gray's show used a simple technique with great results. A simple floodlight was placed in front of Gray and each band member, and when illuminated, the light cast their shadow on the back wall of the stage. As each member soloed, the lights were switched on and off, creating a stunning, albeit stripped-down visual effect. "Freedom" closed the set as Gray sounded splendid, just like the scintillating star that he is.

David Gray :: 03.03

Just when the audience assumed his canvas was mostly completed, Gray came out for an encore that added yet another panel to his portrait, creating the most powerful scene in this tuneful triptych. All night long, Gray's band (drummer "Clune," guitarist/keyboardist Tim Bradshaw, bassist Rob Malone, multi-instrumentalist David Nolte, and cellist Caroline Dale) had been exquisite, but now was the time for Gray to show the power of his voice and guitar solo. "Shine" was amazing, as Gray sang in a lone spotlight, but like a coruscating candle that turned into a bonfire, somehow he managed to permeate and brighten every corner of the building. The brand new song "Far From Here" made its debut as Gray told a tale, singing "Turn down the light, far from here." Although the lighting was minimal at this point, David Gray was a beacon of sorts as the crowd listened, fixated on his every movement. By the time "Silver Lining" was introduced, some of the fans in the crowd were uneasy and unsure if Gray would offer up his ultra-mega hit "Babylon." Gray has commented recently that he only plays it maybe 25 percent of the time, but Cleveland was going to get lucky and beat those odds. "Babylon" was wonderful, and although certainly a song everyone in the crowd was familiar with, sounded fresh, new, and full of hope like the dawn itself. A true treat was saved for last, as a cover of The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love" finished the show on an upbeat and meaningful note. After all, crowd pleasers in the encore, like trees, like to have friends too. Gray was truly hamming it up, as he strolled from side to side like a lustrous lantern in the darkness, signaling everyone's ship safely home. Thanking the crowd for their support, Gray and the band disappeared into the backstage of the theater and the crowd streamed out, beaming from the experience.

There are no clear indications from Bob Ross' television show as to what type of music Ross enjoyed. By his appearance, one might imagine Ross strutting down the street slapping fives to an instrumental version of the Meters' "Just Kissed my Baby." By his soft-spoken demeanor, one might conjecture he was more of an Air Supply guy. At any rate, there's little doubt that if he were alive today, Bob Ross would be a fan of David Gray. Just as Ross could turn a demonstration of design into a deeper discourse, David Gray has a true talent for creating compositions that draw the listener in and allow for various interpretations and vivifications. While Ross created vignettes with a palette and brush, Gray's "objet d'art" is music, but the concepts expressed and their approaches aren't really that different. One thing is for certain - there is absolutely no doubt that David Gray's star is on the rise, and the world is his canvas. The sky truly is the limit, and in the future, it would serve as no surprise to find more and more fans basking under the glow of his splendorous sunbeams as he paints a picture in song.

Alibi, Sail Away, Hospital Food, My Oh My, Lately, Nos Da Cariad, The One I Love, Disappearing World, Please Forgive Me, Long Distance Call, Now and Always, This Year's Love, Freedom

Encore: Shine (DG Solo), Far From Here (Brand New), Silver Lining, Babylon, Friday I'm In Love

JamBase | Cleveland
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[Published on: 3/29/06]

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joxley1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/29/2006 03:59PM
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Thank you for an extremely well written review. Your use of Bob Ross as a parallel to Gray is fantastic and certainly brought a smile to my face. I recall many Sat mornings in college (after one too many the night before) being smoothed over by Ross' mellow demeanor and optimism. I find Gray valuable because he offers music that is serious, sometimes melancholy, but always uplifting. Cheers.

All Loving Liberal White Guy Wed 3/29/2006 04:52PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

david gray is a great artist but has he really sold more records than his native counterparts U2 and van morrison?! unless the people in ireland get a free bottle of jameson with each purchase, i find that kind of hard to believe that he has sold more records than them. he still does rule, though.

Kayceman starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/30/2006 08:24AM
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Editor's Note: In regards to album sales, this is from Gray's website (and can be found on album charts too), "In Ireland, White Ladder remains the best selling album of all time."


z man Thu 3/30/2006 09:08AM
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My sister recently sent me a copy of white ladder. I think it is a must have CD. The guy really lets it pour from deep within.

lilpikes09 starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/30/2006 01:17PM
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sold more records than U2, hell yea.
sold more records than van morrison, eh.
still, he is a great artist, and needs to come back to chicago. soon.

Alex.Anastas starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/30/2006 03:34PM
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Beautiful article and photos, Mr. Massie. I love to see you guys at Jambase do both the artistic leg work as well as the crafty word weaving.

I must say I ESPECIALLY liked the parallel to Bob Ross, a found memory from my childhood, indeed. Thanks for making me smile, as well.