David Gray (O2 Guildhall Southampton, 28/11/14)

Written for NOISE CANNON.

“WE LOVE YOU!” So screams one lucky man who got front row seats for tonight’s performance by his apparent idol David Gray who hasn’t yet even taken a seat at his piano. “I haven’t even started yet!” However giggly and perhaps slightly irritated Gray sounded already, it doesn’t matter much to some very loud and devout fans, who against tonight’s warmth and calm of hypnotic sound, seem to have taken a wrong turn when on the way to the nightclub across the road.

Who would have thought that any club offered a captivating folk rock evening?

Gray is surrounded by seven fellow musicians (of whom, despite their deadly stillness for the following two hours, all but the drummer contribute flawlessly harmonized vocals, though disappointingly obscure Gray entirely), building a mystic, swelling glow of noise, incorporating strings and electronic hums. Tonight this is by no means a shortcoming by cheating using laptops, but a fantastic final link to create a fitting soundtrack to whatever weird and wonderful dark forest-based fairy stories that the audience can envision throughout ‘Birds of the High Arctic’ and ‘Back In the World’.

“Don’t worry. Almost getting to the good stuff” Gray apologises before a furious performance of latest title track ‘Mutineers’, at his very loudest, amidst a shower of red spotlights. Forming an even more bizarre dissonance, is the opening verse and chorus of ‘My Oh My’, as perhaps the slowest track to ever implement a non-stop strobe light.

Image from: facebook.com/davidgray
Image from: facebook.com/davidgray

However, the idea that the audience are due the ‘good stuff’ later on, somewhat wakes everybody from their hypnosis, come more of Gray’s mega-hit album White Ladder. Gray, during the main set, has cornered his performance into a dilemma, making even his best known hits, such as a careless and fun acoustic version of ‘Babylon’ make extended gaps in the enchantment.

This loss of atmosphere peaks as Gray experiments with a performance of his nine-minute cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, as part of a twenty-minute acoustic segment. Without his band around him, there is no longer flow and progress. However monumental an achievement that such a monster is for one man and his guitar, and it is certainly enough to enthrall most fans, it feels like a massive space in what for the last hour had been a beautifully semi-conceptual experience.

On the other hand, the fifteen-minute, improv-heavy closer ‘Nemesis’ doesn’t only restore a more desirable kind of ‘awkward’ – a haunting eeriness – but is the pinnacle of the set, confirming just what Gray has been venturing for all night. Layers fall away, leaving behind just electronic chirps, and ghostly delayed samples of his voice fading into the aether of a hall already nicknamed Southampton Echo Chamber.

The jagged progression of the set might have offered a taster for fans of each of his eras, but it tripped at the final hurdle, spattered with slightly tedious (albeit popular) hits, so very close to being a flawless two-hour ambient hover on wings of song.



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