Macy Gray, Jazz Café, London
Soul survivor's got it covered with her sexed-up show
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Thursday 05 July 2012
Macy Gray calls her band the Sexy Things, the crowd "sexy people" (as if it's actually our names), and sings Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" For Gray, sex, like music, is earthy, funny, and gives clues to some happy, higher purpose. In between versions of songs by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and others from her new album, Covered, there's a telling skit in which she's advised to become a "more rounded artist like Britney Spears", or otherwise ape her peers' fame-clinging shticks. But though she has seen a steep commercial slide from 1999's giant hit "I Try", Gray remains her untamed self.
She fails to hide her high, upswept grey-brown hair behind a pillar of the intimate Jazz Café, before taking her place behind her bejewelled mic-stand, and waking us up early by demanding inhibition-blowing screams. The new albums covers are interspersed with her own songs, and well chosen: Radiohead's "Creep" toys with self-loathing in the way her own older songs do. Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" is the most cleverly transformed, becoming some lost, funky rock ballad from late 1970s FM radio. The covers-playing remit is extended when the Jackson 5's joyous "ABC" is played while she switches costumes, and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and Donna Summer's "On the Radio" are simply spun jukebox-style, Gray hiding her face in her hands with pleasure at Wonder, as the band get up to dance.
Gray's voice sometimes deliberately sounds as if she's swallowing and snatching at words, but is fuller and more precise than it seems, roaming over her band's beats to hit her own spot. It could stand softer backing, but the band's aim is uplift and dancing. For Awolnation's "Sail" she changes into an old soul singer's long dress, singing its lyrics of ADD and suicide with mournful triumph, over gospel-soul keyboard vamps.
"I Try" is a song about possessed love sung with assertive passion and expansive purpose, not hit-singing obligation. She breaks it open with an improvised monologue, telling her lover she's so enraptured that, when he's out of the room, she sniffs his underwear. "I said, baby, it's the new thing!" she declares, impishly unrestrained. Then she's making us chant her signature word, "freedom", segueing into "No more war". Finally she holds her mic over the dancing crowd, handing the song to us, delighted at the party she's started.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food