David Gray Debuts Mutineers in The U.S.
Wilshire Ebell Theatre,
Los Angeles, CA
David Gray’s appearance at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles sold out in minutes. It was a sign of certainty for the British singer-songwriter that even with his tenth studio album, Mutineers, still months from release, fans were quite anxious for a West Coast visit. In return, those in attendance witnessed, in essence, the record’s debut, performed in its entirety for the first time in the States. As Gray took his seat at the piano to open the evening he vulnerably acknowledged, “Better to be scared witless than bored shitless.”
Anxiety aside, the neatly dressed Englishman and his seven-piece ensemble delivered a faultless “Gulls,” the first of 11 Mutineers songs, settling any nerves, its cascading choruses and stacked vocals a theme throughout. Largely well-received, the daring decision felt less so as the confidence rose with each song debut, peaking with “Last Summer,” its cathartic, climbing extended outro eliciting a long, enthusiastic reaction from the capacity crowd. With few exceptions, the new material seemed intent on establishing a sonic landscape from which to build up and out, often with a one or two-chord foundation, repeating lyrics, and plenty of counterpoint between newcomers on guitar David Kitt and John Smith.
There was a palpable exuberance during much of the Mutineers portion, celebratory and bordering on gospel, with a seven-part harmony army of voices that alternately stunted and washed over, giving Gray the platform to shout above or lock in stride. Recent tours have seen the singer and his band more button-downed, a darker, foreboding tone hanging in the eves. On this night, the figurative weight seemed shed, the group smiling and swaying with each unveiling.
With the album’s tracklist exhausted, the concert’s second stanza was appropriated with catalog classics. After performing the Irish chart-topper “Shine,” solo, Gray and the seven tackled favorites “This Year’s Love,” “Kathleen,” and “Fugitive,” each whose opening notes garnered preemptive applause. It was the trio of “The One I Love,” closer “Sail Away,” and encore “Babylon,” however, that peaked the festivities in their altered arrangements and familiar refrains. Follow-ups “Laughing Gas” and finale “Nemesis,” with slightly psychedelic swirls, closed the show.
Between now and the late-June release of Mutineers, the singer will play to sold-out theatres in seven major North American cities. It’s an interesting idea he’s exploring in the Internet age, performing the whole album in advance, and leads to speculation as to whether this will continue after the record comes available. Likely, several of its songs will find their way into a touring repertoire, and if so, this short run will stand as a most unforgettable and enjoyable live listening party.