Deep vocals, light touch, dark themes

Macy Gray | Brighton Centre
Click to follow

You know you've hit the big time when your record is being played in clothes shops. Never mind that the Ohio-born songstress Macy Gray walked away with a pair of gongs at last month's Brit Awards. The fact that her guttural growl is accompanying the sales of legions of silky summer dresses means that, with the proceeds of her extraordinary début album, Gray is set up for life.

But such success has its drawbacks. I can't be the only one feeling that, by virtue of its ubiquity, Gray's LP On How Life Is is losing its appeal.

Fortunately, there is a solution. After just five minutes in the company of Gray at her Brighton show, the record was instantly brought back to life. During interviews, the singer frequently claims to have been mortified by her voice as a child. But what strikes you seeing her perform live is how these deep, grainy vocals achieve such extraordinary emotional range. In the space of one song she moves seamlessly from tragic vulnerability to out-and-out euphoria.

And who'd have thought that a woman with a voice more gravelly than Dot Cotton's could be sexy? A gloriously lascivious version of "Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak", sees the purring Gray transformed into a panting sex beast, enacting asimulated orgasm.

Dressed in her usual long coat and flares, her hair combed into a near-spherical afro, Gray is the epitome of cool. In the infectious and warm sense rather than the aloof, look-but-don't-touch attitude of her peers.

"Louder," she yells at the band at the end of the Billie Holidayesque "Why Didn't You Call Me?" "Louder," she screams again. As a result, the bass is cranked up so far our ribcages thump in protest.

The sheer diversity of Gray's inspiration also shines through. While appropriating grooves from classic soul and funk - Sly Stone might have orchestrated the whole show - the singer also creams off the best elements of hip-hop. But while her contemporaries simply underline their dysfunctionality with gangsta-style prattling, Gray handles dark themes - murder, violence, isolation - with a winningly light touch. During the revenge-killing tale "Murder", she giggles furtively into the microphone, confiding "Having money sure is nice". You can't argue with that.

A run-of-the-mill version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" perhaps points to a slight paucity of material, though a cover of Melanie's "I've Got a Brand New Pair of Rollerskates" was far better than the original.

On the strength of this evening, we can be sure that Gray will be around for some time. On the song "Do Something", she describes herself as "the latest craze". But she is much, much more than that.

Macy Gray continues her tour at Birmingham NEC (30 Mar); Nottingham Royal Centre (31 Mar); Manchester Apollo (2, 3 Apr); Wembley Arena (5 Apr); Brixton Academy (6, 7 Apr)