Review: ‘Macy Gray’

"Are y'all here to party?" Macy Gray asked the crowd early on in her semi-secret Los Angeles show, billed as "An Evening With Intimacy." No idle bit of stage patter, this was as much a command as a question. Taking a risk in previewing her upcoming Epic album "The Id" (Epic), Gray managed to pull it off.

“Are y’all here to party?” Macy Gray asked the crowd early on in her semi-secret Los Angeles show, billed as “An Evening With Intimacy.” No idle bit of stage patter, this was as much a command as a question. Taking a risk in previewing her upcoming Epic album “The Id” (Epic), Gray managed to pull it off. Immediately accessible and energetically performed, the unfamiliar material posed no problem in connecting with the crowd. If her powerhouse 90-minute show proved one thing, it is that Macy Gray sure knows how to celebrate.

Arriving fashionably late (the announced 9 o’clock show didn’t begin until nearly 10), Gray and her 13-piece band showed up ready to have a good time, tearing into the roof-raising “Relating to a Psychopath.” They were dressed for the occasion — ghetto fabulous in brightly colored and patterned outfits and big floppy hats — looking like they stepped off the cover of Miles Davis’ “On the Corner.”

As at any good party, there was some sweaty high stepping sexual bravado (the snake-hipped “Harry”); as well as songs for couple’s couples hooking up (the Prince-styled bounce “Freak Like Me”), breaking up (the Sly Stone rocker “Don’t Come Around”) and getting back together (“Forgiveness,” the evening’s most impressive ballad).

With “Sexual Revolution,” a gospel-tinged romp powered by a Curtis Mayfield bassline, Grey delivers a sermon on carnal satisfaction that could make Prince blush, ending with a randy vagina monologue that was more direct than anything Eve Ensler could imagine.

There was even the odd little “Oblivion.” The song’s spacey harmonies and lumbering Eastern European rhythm make it obvious that Gray has attended at least one bar mitzvah. And with all this going down, the party was never too busy to stop and listen for ‘s wailing guitar solos or ‘s scratches.

A kind of Cook’s tour of soul and funk, Gray is one of the few modern R&B singers who does not simply rely on the groove. The songs are densely layered with horns, keyboards and two drummers, all in the service of catchy choruses and smartly structured verses. Her ingratiatingly grainy voice — imagine Donald Duck inhaling helium and imitating Billie Holiday –imbues the music with a wide emotional range. But her hip-hop flow and use of a DJ and modern keyboard textures keep the music contemporary.

For an encore, Gray performed a kind of TV Land remix of “I’ve Committed Murder” as the band deftly dropped in bits of themes from “Sanford and Son,” “Get Smart” and “The Odd Couple” around the verses. Finally, exhausted and forgetting a good deal of the lyrics, she led a sing-along of her hit “I Try,” sending everyone home satisfied and wishing more people would put on blasts like this.

Macy Gray

El Rey Theater, Hollywood; 771 capacity; $25

Production

Presented by Goldenvoice. Reviewed Sept. 10, 2001.
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