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.
Arts & Ents blogs
There is a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refle...
The opening titles squeal ‘Never Can Say Goodbye…’. Oh Lord how I wish I could heave this series off...
Even though there was a complete absence of our favourite odd couple Brienne and Jaime, we got anoth...
This is the end... Keyboard player of The Doors Ray Manzarek dies of cancer aged 74
'He was lucky he didn't die' - George Michael fell out of speeding car onto M1 motorway, according to eye witness
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
School-gate mums: Is 2013's Fifty Shades a novel by Gill Hornby called The Hive?
Arrested Development returns but can the new episodes on Netflix capture the show's deadpan glory days?
- 1 'He was lucky he didn't die' - George Michael fell out of speeding car onto M1 motorway, according to eye witness
- 2 Austerity has hardened the nation's heart
- 3 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 4 X marks the spot: The find that could rewrite Australian history
- 5 'It was just like the movie Twister': Man survives Oklahoma tornado by taking refuge in horse stall
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.