Show Review

Wil Burton

I knew that the next two hours would consist of a unique and energetic gift.

I could spend an hour telling you all the reasons why David Gray is among the best live performers in the music business. Instead I’ll just tell you that seeing him at the State Theatre in Cleveland was the fifth time I have paid to see him live. And at forty-five bucks a ticket, it was still worth the money.

Despite his last few studio efforts paling in comparison to his legendary White Ladder album, Gray’s live show has only gotten stronger. His twenty-song set highlighted a few tracks off of his latest release, Draw The Line, but mostly drew from his earlier catalog. While this may have dismayed any label rep, it certainly delighted the majority of the audience.

Among his notable efforts were “This Year’s Love”, “Sail Away”, “Everytime”, and “As I’m Leaving.” Gray found a way to bring new life to these tracks that he has been playing for the last ten years. His patented bobble-head and foot stomping lead the way as his band provided the perfect complement throughout the evening. The chemistry was tight and remarkable considering that Gray and long time (and crowd favorite) drummer, Clune, parted ways before the latest album release.

My personal favorite point of the evening came when the band exited the stage to leave Gray alone in a single spotlight. It only took one strum of his openly-tuned guitar for the entire crowd to know the treat that they were in for. For devotees, “Shine” is the pinnacle of any Gray performance. He halts the pace of the concert to a complete standstill and holds the crowd in the palm of his hand. Gray often admits that “Shine” was the beginning of “all of the madness.” Inapposite, considering that the coma that it induces on the audience is exactly the opposite of madness.

There were several points within the first hour that could have served as appropriate show-enders. But keeping with tradition, Gray ended the pre-encore set with “Please Forgive Me.” The crowd joined the band in keeping the beat with rhythmic hand clapping and maintained their standing ovation until Gray and company returned to the stage to show their appreciation with a three-song encore.

Despite a career that has lasted nearly two decades, David Gray still remains relatively unknown to the general population. Those that have heard of him would likely reference “Babylon” (which he played a slower-tempo version of) as their only exposure to his music. But for the lucky fans that picked up a copy of White Ladder in 1999 and then proceeded to delve into his back catalog while remaining faithful to his new releases, seeing David Gray live is nothing short of zen. He commands the stage while making it clear that he hasn’t forgotten the first decade of performances to single-digit crowds at unpublicized gigs.
Gray begins each show by shouting hello to the name of the city that he is in that evening. On Sunday, after hearing the words “Hello Cleveland,” I knew that the next two hours would consist of a unique and energetic gift from Gray to the heart of rock and roll.