Review and photo by Jeremy Frye
If you count the bats circling the night sky, Chastain Park Amphitheatre was over capacity. It was a “rock” setup, with rows of chairs down front replacing the usual tables. This meant there were no fancy picnics, no tablecloths, no wine, and no cheese platters. Instead, every seat was packed with almost 7,000 people there to see the most sublime folk-rock pairing since Kenny Loggins first laid eyes on Jim Messina. Sadly, Ray LaMontagne and David Gray would not be teaming up to perform together. Rather, under a beautifully clear sky and a full moon, the two distinct and talented performers co-headlined an evening of Adult Album Alternative radio hits.
With the sun still out, with humidity you could slice like a Bundt cake, Ray LaMontagne hit the stage a little after 7:30 p.m. and played for roughly an hour. With a small, understated band, Ray stood side stage, and played his songs with little fanfare. With such an early start time, and ticket holders still scrambling to find parking in the surrounding full lots and suburban side streets, many of the seats were still empty during his set. This gave him the thankless task of focusing the energy of those still getting settled in while he played. Ray appeared irritated with what likely seemed to him like a lack of interest. It was tough to tell if he was actually bothered, as the only thing more pronounced than LaMontagne’s beard is his shyness. Save for a few terse “thank you’s,” he said nothing between songs. His soulful singing voice sounded powerfully bluesy, but the vibe he gave off said he had somewhere else to be, like he left in the middle of a card game to come perform for us. Much to the disappointment of the man incessantly yelling for it behind me, he did not play “Jolene.” He did play a few other songs from his most well-known album, 2004’s Trouble, including “Hold You in My Arms,” “Shelter,” and the title track. Naturally, he was there to promote his new album, God Willin’ & The Creek Won’t Rise, so the set consisted of predominantly new material. He left the stage quickly, and it looked like he’d be returning for an encore, but never did. It felt a bit like a wasted opportunity, and I never felt like he connected with the crowd.
Differing from LaMontagne’s rather dour set, David Gray came on around 9:15 p.m., and wowed the crowd immediately with his confidence and positive energy. Starting with “Draw The Line,” he performed an hour and a half worth of his more well known songs, mostly from the last 12 years of his almost 20 year career. The man is nothing if not consistent. He’s been doing this long enough to know what the people want, and this was as close to a “greatest hits” set as David could deliver. His trademark head wobble was in place all night, as was his sensitive everyman husky bray of a voice. It’s the latter quality that really sets him apart from his pop contemporaries. Even the most banal lyric carries a little more weight when Gray sings it. There’s nothing particularly unique about aimed-at-the-heart ballads like “This Year’s Love” or “The One I Love,” but coming out of Gray’s mouth, they seem like sentiments directed at you and your better half. There was much snuggling and making out in the crowd during both.
In fact, it’s his voice that has made him such a successful pop star. He’s sort of regular looking, and while certainly affable, he’s not a man oozing with charisma. He can write songs, sure, but it’s the way he delivers those songs that make them stand out. As a result, he doesn’t have do necessarily do anything on stage to make for an enchanting show. In that regard, he has more in common with the pop singers of old, who could draw a crowd just because people liked to hear them sing, no matter what they were singing. Gray’s elctro-tinged folk-pop does not attempt to be edgy in any way, making him an easy target for hipsters and critics alike. His squareness doesn’t feel quite as middle-of-the-road bland as contemporaries like John Mayer or even Dave Matthews. He has an elegance as a performer that gives him a classic feel. He’s one of those guys who could do this forever, as there will always be people who just want a nice night out. And on that wish, David Gray delivers.
David Gray Setlist:
1. Draw The Line
3. Sail Away
4. Stella The Artist
5. Be Mine
6. Now and Always
7. Slow Motion
9. This Year’s Love
10. Flame Turns Blue
12. The One I Love
13. In The Morning
15. Please Forgive Me
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- Ray LaMontagne's DIVA Behavior Cuts Show Short | RadioPotato | August 31, 2010