Characterized by the subtle use of electronic beats and loops, David Gray’s albums are intensely intricate. Rather than try to duplicate their sound when playing live last night at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in front of a crowd that filled about half the venue, the British singer-songwriter took a more organic approach to the songs. With a little help from his terrific seven-piece band, he succeeded.
The two-hour show commenced with “Birds of the High Arctic,” a song that found Gray, who ran onto stage and quickly delivered a “Hello Cleveland!,” playing the piano. A bit of cello gave the song a real elegance. While it started as a mellow ballad, by song’s end, Gray was standing at the edge of the stage, waving his arms and beckoning the audience to respond. At that point, patrons remained seated, but he’d win them over eventually.
Gray switched to guitar for "Mutineers," the moody title track from his terrific new album that he introduced simply by saying “this is what it feels like to be one.” He switched back and forth between piano and guitar and often let his band improvise the endings of songs, which had rich textures thanks to the varied instrumentation. Ironically enough, the stripped-down “This Year’s Love,” the first single from his breakthrough album, 1999’s White Ladder
, was the one track that really riled up the crowd. He started the song on piano and his cellist and bassist then accompanied him for the emotional tune. The audience rose to its feet and patrons in the cheap seats began banging on the bleachers to show their support. Gray really appreciated the crowd’s response too.
From that point, Gray and the fans were on the same page. He even encouraged them to do “that stamping foot thing.” Flickering strobes punctuated the folk-y “The One I Love” and brisk percussion drove an energetic rendition of “Please Forgive Me” — Gray even leapt into the air at song’s end. That energy carried over into the encore that featured his biggest hit, “Babylon,” which turned into a sing-a-long and had patrons on their feet.