David Gray June 18, 2019, Eccles Theater

By: Kevin Rolfe

I’ve been a David Gray fan for a long time.  I’ve seen him in Los Angeles, in London and many times here in Salt Lake City.  I do whatever I can to be sure to see him whenever he tours. There was even one time when David Gray was coming to Kingsbury Hall and I wasn’t going to be able to attend.  I was forced to summon the assistance of the concert gods and David ended up needing to reschedule that concert for a date that I could attend. And that concert was so good!  When I saw that DG was bringing his Gold in a Brass Age Tour to Salt Lake I was thrilled.  But when I noticed that the concert would be taking place at the Eccles Theater I couldn’t think of a better combination.  And I was not wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, David Gray could play at a landfill with everyone sitting on thrown away couches and toilets and it would be amazing.  But pairing him with the Eccles Theater was a brilliant idea. I’ve said this before but I can’t help myself. Go see a concert at the Eccles Theater!  There really isn’t a bad seat in the place and the sound is amazing. Old man alert: I wear earplugs to concerts. Mainly because I go to so many that if I didn’t I would only be reviewing how things looked and not sounding because I’d probably be deaf by now.  But not once did I ever consider putting earplugs in for this show. The acoustics of the venue matched with the style of David Gray’s music made earplugs unnecessary. I found myself lost just gazing around the Delta Performance Hall entranced by the beauty of that venue.  I know there was some pushback when the theater was being built, but I’m so glad it exists. It’s perfectly placed in the heart of downtown and it has added so much to the whole area.

The best thing about a David Gray concert is you don’t just listen to his songs, you feel them.  His lyrics and melodies have a way of traveling through you like a force of energy. In one of my moments of looking around, I could see fan after fan just hypnotized by the music.  Some people had their eyes closed mouthing the lyrics, others were bobbing their heads just feeling every beat, and some people like the beautiful woman next to me were brought to tears.  My emotions were at the surface the entire concert. His music has that effect. It’s passionate, it’s poignant, it’s uplifting, and it’s earnest. I found myself coming out of hypnosis and realizing how much I was tapping my foot or hitting my hand against my knee.

The beauty of Gray’s songs is in the lyrics and the layers.  A song might begin with a simple strum on an acoustic guitar.  But then that strum has been looped and now he’s fingerpicking, and that has been looped.  After several other loops by David, the bassist jumps in with his pulsing beat followed by his rhythm section companion on drums subtly crescendoing his playing.  Multi-instrumentalists join in on guitar or keys adding to the sound. We’re looking at five men performing on stage but what we’re hearing is an entire orchestra’s worth of sound.  It’s powerful, to say the least. The way David Gray’s songs are arranged make it so he can take them just about anywhere he wants. Many times he extends the songs and when he does the moment is enhanced. My favorite is when he does that with “Nemesis”.  He performed an eleven-minute version of the song. Yes, I did time it. I’ve heard him do versions for up to 16 minutes! The power of that song allows him to just riff and riff and when it’s over I’m about as moved as I’ve ever been with a song. I noticed with the song off of his latest album Gold in a Brass Age, “A Tight Ship” he kept repeating a line and it wasn’t until maybe the tenth time the line finally hit me, “Tonight we’ll dance like no one sees.”.   When I finally “heard” the line it had a real impact on me. That’s the best feeling, isn’t it? Dancing when no one’s watching?

Gray opened his show performing eight songs off of Gold in a Brass Age. I think that can be a huge risk, but David pulled it off.  It reminded me of when I went to my first David Gray concert.  It was in 2005 in Los Angeles and he performed his yet to be released album Life in Slow Motion.  That album is arguably his best and probably his second most successful next to White Ladder.  The beauty in listening to songs you’re not as familiar with is you’re not constantly anticipating what’s next.  You’re able to just enjoy hearing these songs live for the first time and seeing how well Gray has constructed them.  I absolutely loved it. It was a brave way to begin a concert and as I mentioned I thought it was a huge success.

Something I enjoyed observing was the symmetry between Gray and his guitar tech.  David would be playing the piano and stand up and his guitar would be there plugged in and strapped on without David missing a beat or lyric.  It almost seemed choreographed. It was an impressive thing to watch!

One of the most fascinating things you’ll notice at a David Gray concert is the audience. There is such a reverence for this music that the entire hall will be completely silent. I mean hearing a pin drop at the back of the tabernacle silent. (If you’ve ever taken a tour of Temple Square downtown you’ll get my meaning.) Gray even commented on how quiet it was mentioning that it was a good thing. I don’t think I can emphasize just how quiet and focused this crowd was. I’ve heard louder audiences at a play. And you’re supposed to be quiet at a play. Don’t get me wrong, when the songs ended the audience erupted in applause. But the attention to every not was so severe that the room was deafeningly quiet. It’s a remarkable thing to see in this day and age. It adds so much to the theater and the mood of the show.

David Gray followed that early set by saying “We are now ascending the mountain of familiarity.  Hope you packed a canteen, it’s a big climb!”. And he was correct! Gray dove into some of his biggest and best hit songs, starting with “Sail Away”.  He performed songs from his album A New Day at Midnight, a record he mentioned he hadn’t played live in a while.  The crowd welcomed songs such as “Freedom” and “Be Mine” back to the setlist with open arms.  I particularly enjoyed songs from one of my favorite albums Draw the Line. “Fugitive” is so good live.  I hope you were there to hear it.  If not, I recommend checking it out!  I think the song I was most excited about was “The One I Love”.  It’s one of my favorite DG songs and I wasn’t sure he’d play it. So when I heard him strum his guitar and say that first line “Gonna close my eyes…”  I was so happy!

Gray finished his main set with his largest hit and probably the song he’s most known for “Babylon”.  There’s a part of me that always thinks, “He has better songs, why is that his biggest hit?”. But I have to admit, I really enjoy that song so I never mind hearing it. I totally get why it became a huge breakthrough hit for him.  I’ve seen Gray perform this song solo acoustic, and with his band. It was great to see him perform with his band and with the original synth and sequencing that fill the song.

Gray returned to the stage and performed “This Year’s Love” which he dedicated to a couple.  Lucky! That song gets to me every time! I feel like I’ve used this word fifty times already but what word describes that song more than beautiful? It tugs at the ol’ heartstrings.  It’s uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. How does he do that? The night ended with the audience rising to their feet and clapping along to one the crowd favorite, “Please Forgive Me”.  I can’t think of a better song to end the show.

There are those artists that you can and should see over and over again.  David Gray is one of those artists. No show is ever the same. He’s humorous without speaking too often and he’s deep without being heavy-handed.  He’s a wordsmith and a master musician. There are few musicians that move me the way DG does. It was a magical and memorable evening in so many ways.  I hope to see David Gray in Salt Lake City again soon. And I really hope he makes the Eccles Theater his permanent Utah residence.

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