In all my days, I have never seen a pop concert audience act so much like a football crowd. I don’t mean like Oasis where they start battering one another, I mean a proper “twelfth man” where the audience actually raise the performance of the musicians to a higher level.
Such was the impression I got, though, at the first twenty minutes of this gig. As David Gray brought his smartly-suited players to the stage, it was like Arsene Wenger leading Arsenal out, and the way it panned out was very much a Highbury story – play like madmen for the first quarter, get a goal, then sit back and bore everyone for the rest of the 90 minutes.
And so the crowd roared and the game got under way with some great strikes on goal from new boys The One I Love and Nos Da Cariad, with solid defending from workhorse Please Forgive Me and the new season’s big signing Alibi preventing a major first half upset. Then everyone seemed to start queuing for pies.
There were some poor tackles from behind – the choice of a Randy Newman song, and not his best one at that, deserved a red card – and a fair amount of time-wasting around Silver Lining. By the end of the dozen or so songs that made up the “first half” (difficult to see these rehearsed encores as anything less than “second halfs” nowadays), people may not have been queuing to leave, but certainly some did not fancy staying for penalties.
Musically, I am often reminded of Kate Bush when I hear David Gray, and this may be even more the case on his new album Life In Slow Motion. The attention to detail in the lyrics, as well as the unexpected melodic motions, make him one of the country’s outstanding songwriters. But someone should tell him that he needs to use his audience more – if they’re all fired up, give them something to rock out to, don’t bring them down with another maudlin rendition of This Year’s Love.
Gray wobbled his head, drummer BJ Cole gave it everything he had (including his Hawaiian shirt) and the band he has assembled were as tight as a Premiership team can be. On paper, there was nothing missing, but as the band reassembled on the pitch for an extra-time version of Babylon, all the pundits would be able to talk about would be the missed opportunities to put goals in the back of the net after the initial bubble of enthusiasm had dissipated. The boys (and girl) sweated and gave it their all for the full ninety minutes, but one couldn’t help feeling at the end that, if it was a victory, it was only really one-nil and not the goalfest we might have hoped for.
Gray and his band leave these shores for a tour of the USA in the next few days. He’ll need to pull a few subs off the bench if he’s going to make his return to the UK worth the price of a season ticket.