Macy Gray, Jazz Cafe, London
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.
Friday 29 June 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 “D’Ya Think I’m Sexy?” For Gray, sex, like music, is earthy, funny, and gives clues to some happy, higher purpose.
In between her new album Covered’s versions of songs by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and others, 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 album’s covers are interspersed with her own songs, and well-chosen: Radiohead’s “Creep” toys with self-loathing in the way her 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 A.D.D. 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.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 4 The most powerful passports in the world
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove