If you ask me, Macy Gray’s career was ahead of its time. Fourteen years ago, On How Life Is came out, and all I’ve known about it in the time since is 1) that while I was beyond tired of hearing radio-saturated “I Try,” it was a great song, 2) Macy has an amazing, interesting, soulful voice, and 3) that the critics loved her. When I saw that she had a show scheduled in the Bay Area, at a favorite tiny venue (Yoshi’s Oakland, last Friday night), I decided it was high time I gave her my full attention.
While Gray had back-to-back shows scheduled for the evening (8 and 10pm), my tickets were for the later of the two. No problem: if you’re seeing a show at Yoshi’s, there’s no need to figure out what to do for dinner while you wait. Grab a table and get your fill of sushi before you head into the venue! That’s what we did, anyway. The 8 o’clock show ran late… really late, actually, which made the area around the entrance a bit of a zoo: all of us 10 o’clockers waiting to go in while the 8 o’clockers were still inside/exiting. And then we had to wait while they tidied up… Eventually, though, we were inside and seated. Just a few minutes after 11, our show finally got started. (As a result, you’ll notice that the set list in the review and the one in the photos at the end do not match: Ms. Gray had to skip a few songs for us.)
When Gray’s band took their places on the stage, the first thing I noticed was a sense of fun: each of them wore a tie adorned with tiny white lights, much like the kind you’ll see soon on Christmas trees everywhere. Moments later, Gray herself appeared, a sparkly vision in a sequined gown, glittery heels, and a feather boa. Even her makeup and jewelry sparkled! To balance the look out, she wore black fingerless driving gloves and her fabulously wild, unkempt trademark hair. She began right away with “Why Didn’t You Call Me,” followed by “Do Something.”
“Thank you!” Gray greeted her fans. “Alright. Sexy people! Before we go any further, I wanna introduce you to, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands in the world…” After introducing each member of her band, she continued saying, “my name is Macy! The only thing is, you know who we are, and we don’t know any of your names!” She requested that on the count of three, everyone introduce themselves. “Only the sexy people! Everyone else just sit there and stay quiet…” One, two, three, “what’s your name?” The crowd shouted their names back to Gray, who answered, “nice to meet ya!” before continuing her set with “Caligula” and then “Still.” During a breakdown in the song, there was a brief silence, inciting several “woo!”s from the audience. Without missing a beat, Gray cocked an eyebrow in response.
“Alright, you’re gonna know this one. Sing it with me, okay? Sing it really, really loud… Drown me out!” Gray requested as she began a cover of the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which was funky and fabulous. “Come on!” She shouted, encouraging the crowd to get into it and sing with her. “Alright! Sexy people! Hello, Oakland! I want you to know that before me and my band came all the way out from Los Angeles, we Googled Oakland,” Gray explained, going on to say that one of the band members wanted to know why they were coming to Oakland. “He didn’t mean it in a bad way… He has a baby, he’s married… So we Googled ‘why should we go to Oakland?'” Apparently, Google told Macy and the band that Oakland has the “most beautiful, intelligent, athletic, conversational men.” After Google-ing “what’s up with the ladies in Oakland?” the band discovered that we have the “most smartest, nurturing, gorgeous, most firm-breasted women in the whole wide world!” Gray went on: “So Caleb says, ‘most firm-breasted?!’ Let’s go to Oakland!” (Note: there were more adjectives, and I certainly couldn’t capture Macy’s awesome, rapid-fire humor in this moment, but I did my best. She’s hilarious, and I just took notes as quickly as I could to get the gist of what she was saying.) “Anyway, before we left, we found some more reasons… We heard that you party a lot! We heard that you know how to party… That you scream really loudly… That you scream louder than that… And the reason I agreed to come here is because Google says that you drink a lot. Which is good for us, because the more you drink, the better we sound!”
“Ok, anyway! During our run from LA we wrote this song for you. Just for you. Here we go!” The song was “Glad You’re Here,” and it was a fib that it was new/written for the show, but it was great all the same. “Sexy people! We’re just like you. You came to see us, we came to see you too. So since I’m singin’ for you, why don’t you sing for me one time?” Gray requested, and the crowd was happy to oblige, finishing the song as she conducted. Clearly, she was enjoying it. “You guys nailed it! Nobody’s ever done it that good!”
“Dance with me now, here we go!” Gray encouraged the crowd as she began “I’ve Committed Murder” into a little of Chaka Demus’ “Murder She Wrote” at the end. After verbally nudging the crowd to continue to sing along and dance, she chided the room, “it’s Saturday night!” (It was a Friday, but the weekend nonetheless.) “On the count of four, shout ‘one for me!'” Gray tested the audience, and time and again, they did as she asked. During the next song, “A Moment to Myself” (which I loved as an introvert’s anthem), every time she’d tick off four fingers, the crowd would oblige and chant “one for me!” At the song’s close, Gray disappeared backstage while the band jammed a bit. When she reappeared, she’d changed into a new sequined dress, and picked up the end of the previous song before continuing.
Clearly, Gray was happy to interact with her fans. In a quieter moment, one of them shouted his excitement that it was his “first time ever seein’ you, Macy!” She smiled, allowing him to come to the stage for a quick hug. “Alright, alright. This show is to celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of my debut album,” Gray explained. In celebration, she chose to do a new song, saying, “not too many people have heard it. If you don’t like it, don’t be honest. I don’t really think honesty is as important as people think…” I believe the song was called “The First Time,” and lucky for both of us, I loved it. It’s about the first time you know you’re really in love, and it conveys that vulnerability and bliss so well. Next came “Relating to a Psychopath,” followed by “Sexomatic Venus Freak.”
After “Things That Made Me Change,” Gray disappeared backstage again. When she reappeared, she wore a dress without sequins, but that was every bit as lovely as the first two. After “Sexual Revolution” was a little of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which lends itself beautifully to her Rod-like raspy voice. “Sweet Baby” came next, followed by “The Sellout” and “Let You Win,” which was just Ms. Gray and her guitar player for most of the song, ending with a little drum as well. “Are you ready?” Gray asked the crowd. “Do this one with me!” The song was her megahit “I Try,” and was fantastic. During it, she accepted a bouquet of roses from a fan, singing to him while he blew her a kiss. “Thank you for the flowers,” she shouted during the song’s break.
“Thank you so much! Alright. Anyway. This is the trouble with walkin’ away: what happens is, you’re in a relationship, and it’s fucking up,” Grey announced. “What happens? You gotta start dating again! You gotta do all that stuff again: you gotta get dressed up, you gotta pretend you’re interested, you gotta just have a salad at dinner… You gotta laugh at his jokes, you gotta meet his family and pretend you like ’em. You can’t fart, you gotta hold it in. He comes to your house, you gotta have it clean and act like you’re neat. If he says something you don’t like, you gotta talk and work it out. With the old guy, if he said something you didn’t like, you could just say, ‘fuck you, motherfucker!’ and he’d say, ‘fuck you too!’ and then it’s over. It’s too much work!” Gray went on to explain that if you find your man’s “dirty drawers” on the floor and like the way they smell, you’re “not there yet.” If you find them and tell him, “‘hey! Come get your shit!’ that’s the one for you. “For a long time.”
“Anyway. Hats off to all of you who have been together a really long time.” Gray applauded them before going on. “You’re so beautiful when you wave your hands in the air, when you just don’t care!” After suggesting something about “shaking your ass” and “throwing your head back to the heavens and scream so God can hear you,” Gray said, “so if things get crazy for you, and you don’t know what to do, just be beautiful, okay? Okay?! Okay! In the meantime, in between time, as long as you love God, love yourself, and really really really love the one you’re with, guess what?” The crowd didn’t respond, so she continued asking, “guess what!” several times until the response reached the decibel level she most preferred. “Everything’s gonna be alright!” With that, Gray went back into “I Try” and closed the song, saying, “thank you so much. Be good to yourselves! Get home safely, alright?”
Moments after leaving the stage, Gray returned wearing another boa, holding a bucket of Halloween candy for the audience to pass around. The last song of the evening was “Beauty in the World,” and though the show was cut a little bit short due to the initial late start, it honestly left me wanting for nothing. I’ve since been inspired to download one of Ms. Gray’s most recent albums, the eclectic and wonderful Covered, which features Macy’s versions of unexpected songs like Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” and Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly.” In conclusion, I have two recommendations for anyone who thinks they might similarly enjoy Gray’s voice: 1) do yourself a favor, and download this album! And 2) go see her live, if you have the chance. She’s funny, charming, and uber-talented!