She needed no introduction. Appropriately enough, she didn’t get one. After the legendarily talented and legendarily bonkers Meltdown 2003 curator Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry had left the stage bafflingly chanting “Rita Marley is a liar” as a rhyming couplet, Macy Gray and her band took to this year’s Meltdown stage with an insouciance that suggested it just may be their second home.
Decked out in the kind of check that your golf-playing boss would cast an envious glance at, we’re fortunate that we can hear Macy’s Sly-Stone growl of a voice over the suit. But, once she throws on the likes of Why Don’t You Call Me as comfortably as the natty golden scarf she’s sporting, we know we’re in for the kind of good time last seen in this burg when Prince and his Revolution were parading their updated soul revue ‘back in the day’. And it’s the Paisley Park groove that the band are able to summon as effortlessly as the arrangements conjure the ghost of Philly and Hi soulsters past, without slipping into parody or pale xerox’s of same. (Are you listening Lenny Kravitz?)
Eschewing the sometimes over-polite production of official Macy product, she goes directly for the fun jugular when onstage. Though no doubt rehearsed to perfection, the show (and it is a show) allows for enough planned spontaneity , whether it’s on the Brand-New-Heavies-done-right groove of Sexual Revolution, the decks-and-bass treatment given to Do Something, or the ska-meets-bavarian-stomp of Oblivion.
What’s surprising is the recognition-factor to many of the tunes so lovingly performed. Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak slinkily slips effortlessly out of the sound system seeming as immediate and familiar as Macy’s signature tune I Try, of which of course she saves for an all-too-brief encore increasing the anticipation.
The Scratchster himself comes back on stage to duet with Macy for an excursion on a version of Bob Marley‘s one love, with the stage lights bouncing off the reflective mirror on his bizarre head gear. From his unsteady gait, its clear that this Alien Starman is still waiting in the sky. But it’s a tribute to the dub pioneer that this year’s Meltdown has taken a welcome step away from the predominately white and predominately Rocktastic roll-call’s of previous years.
Though Macy herself rarely breaks into anything but a wry grin, its clear that she’s as happy to be here as much of her devoted faithful are, who are prepared to do all the smiling for her. And there’s the rub. It’s increasingly rare that gigs can sustain this level of joie de vivre. With so many artists demanding intense and serious appreciation of the muse from their audience, its refreshing to see one performer who appears interested solely in providing a Great Night Out. And that’s pretty much what we got.