Review: Macy Gray @ The Star (Gold Coast)

Macy Gray at The Star (Gold Coast) on 9 July, 2024 - image © Radical Imaging
Bill has a love of music (especially Australian), surf, photography, food and family. Favourite countries: Australia, Japan, Italy (in that order!). Favourite music genres: open to everything!

US R&B singer Macy Gray has one of the most distinctive and powerful voices of recent decades, and we are lucky to have her touring Australia to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the release of her debut, triple-platinum album, 'On How Life Is'.

The 1999 album spawned a number of classic hits, the most famous of which is the beautiful 'I Try'. Gray's musical influences are varied, but are some of the classic and most original musicians of our time.

Gray highlights such luminaries as Steve Wonder, Prince, Chaka Khan, and from a much earlier era, Billie Holliday. She personally thanked the former three artists when collecting her Grammy Award for her vocal performance on 'I Try' in 2001.

Her music is more broadly seen as influenced by R&B, soul, jazz, and early hip hop. After much hard work during the 1990s, Gray was finally granted a record contract, and commenced recording of 'On How Life Is'.

She went on to record another ten studio albums – with an obligatory Christmas album – right up to 2023's 'The Reset’. At 56, Gray is still touring widely.

Listening through the back catalogue ahead of the concert, 'On How Life Is' stands out to me as her best recorded work, although there are also some great tracks on 2023's 'The Reset' and in between. Overall her music gives a positive message, and it is exciting to see how that message – and voice – holds up 25 years after the seminal album's release.

Gray is touring with musicians The California Jet Club, with whom she recorded 'The Reset'. The musicians enter the stage ahead of Gray, and took an usual stance in a straight line across the back of the stage – from keys, drummer, second drummer, and bass guitarist.

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Macy Gray - image © Radical Imaging

Gray herself then joined in front of them, the only prop being her mic stand and a semi-circle of amps low to the floor. Gray wore a vivid blue dress, with a huge blue feather boa, and bright green shoes – 'understated' is not the word for any aspect of this evening's show.

As the concert celebrates the 25-year anniversary of 'On How Life Is', it features every song off the album (not in order), and she kicks off with 'Why Didn't You Call Me', her raspy voice rising above the music.

The bassist plays keyboard for the opening number, and it is clear early the two drummers will provide an important focus for the show – they both play completely different styles, but in perfect time with each other and the other musicians.

The second track of the evening is probably my favourite off the album, 'Do Something'. It's very bass-heavy this evening. I have always felt this piece has a really positive message and some of the crowd was on its feet as she played the song. The lyrics and music in this piece are lovely, very upbeat and it was one of my two or three favourite numbers for the evening.

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Macy Gray - image © Radical Imaging

'Caligula' followed, with the other big hit in Australia, 'Sex-o-matic Venus Freak' close behind. During the latter, Gray tells the audience to look at the person beside them and tell them "I'm easy baby," something she does numerous times during the evening.

The evening is all about having people relax, focus on the music and themselves, as "we are going to have a party!" The song winds up with a lovely keyboard part, very reminiscent of 1970s Stevie Wonder.

Another classic from the album is 'I've Committed Murder', Gray is fantastic with the lyrics, turning them around slightly and purposefully from the album, and the musicians are unbelievable as the song builds. (Every time I hear this song, I think of The Style Council's 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' with its shimmering keyboards and continued musical patterns.)

'Still' is another of the best-known tracks, and is just Macy and the keys until joined very lightly by the drums. It's a much gentler version of the beautiful original, and each of the musicians is playing something intricate, yet interesting. The lovely 'A Moment To Myself' shifts seamlessly into the much faster and higher tension 'I Can't Wait To Meetchu', which really built into a big close.

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Macy Gray - image © Radical Imaging

It was time for a cover, and Macy chose 'Sunny' by Bobby Hebb. The crowd knows the song well, and for the first verse it's just Macy and the bassist who is playing some incredible, plucked chord structures, until joined later by the band.

The song keeps changing key, as the original does, and when she resolves it back to the original key, it feels like her voice could explode. There is a constant three-note pattern running through the bassline late in the song, and I get a real James Bond vibe from this pattern (an association I also hear in parts of her latest album).

Gray has great ongoing banter with the crowd along the lines that "me and the band have come here, all the way from LA, California, because we heard that Gold Coast ladies are the best dancers, with the best booties, and that Gold Coast men are some of the most intelligent conversationalists". It kept repeating, but it was quite hilarious, delivered as it was with Gray's raspy voice.

Radiohead's 'Creep' has long been a feature of her live sets and was given beautiful treatment, after a very brief introduction to a later of Gray's hits, 'Beauty In The World', before we were treated to an incredible drum solo, with only drummer Steve Stewart onstage.

After a brief interlude, Gray was back with a new and equally overstated dress and feather boa, leading into a longer version of 'Relating To A Psychopath'. It was very upbeat and energetic, then she started to bring the tempo down, and she really had the crowd eating out of her hands.

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Macy Gray - image © Radical Imaging

Gary went off into some further humorous banter, this time there are too many rules in the world. "Well tonight, we're gonna have no rules," and she moved into 'Sexual Revolution'. The crowd is instantly on its feet, seating arrangements have become looser and everyone is dancing. There is a massive disco ball on the screen behind the stage and the song was beautifully done.

By far her biggest hit follows with 'I Try'. The version kicks off with just Macy and the drums, and the crowd is again in full voice screaming "everything's going to be alright," bringing some Bob Marley to the song. The set winds up with the latest release 'I AM' (her collab with Big Freedia) which is fun, and a surprisingly upbeat version of 'The Letter'.

Gray was supported in Brisbane and Gold Coast by local Gold Coast singer TANISHA, who will play a headlining show at the Miami Marketta on 26 July. TANISHA was supported by two members of her band, with only guitar and keyboards to accompany her.

It was a 45-minute set of originals from the 26-year-old, including 'Cinnamon & Sugar', which we are told is named for an ex-partner who despised cinnamon. As we move further into the set, TANISHA tells the crowd that most of her music is about traumatic relationships.

TANISHA
TANISHA - image © Radical Imaging

'How It Is' follows; she had written it as a piano ballad, so was happy to present it in this format, with its reverb-filled guitar chords. TANISHA notes that the sad stuff is all done, and moves into the last three songs: 'Things About You', 'Like You' and 'Bare Minimum'.

TANISHA had a very confident chatter with the crowd throughout her set; I think having opened for Macy Gray will only open up her confidence as she seems a very natural performer and an ideal opener for the main act.

More photos from the concert.

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