I love live concerts.
There’s this buzz in the air, people are dressed for the occasion, chatting excitedly, their faces animated, and in general everyone is just more open and friendly.
We are united for a few hours by a connection.
A love for a particular artist and their music.
And this time the artist was Macy Gray.
I remember when her music first appeared in the charts. For sure, it was catchy so you could sing along, a little flirty and her voice. Oh, her voice! Her husky, gravelly voice. The kind of voice you don’t forget in a hurry, but yet, is reminiscent of earlier artists.
But for me, it was her presence. The way she looked, the way she held herself that drew me in. I can still clearly remember when I came across her cd in the music store. There was just the one copy. And that copy was mine.
This beautiful black woman with the suave, smooth skin, the defined curls, the smile and the cheekbones. She appeared to me to be slightly awkward, but yet confident simultaneously.
This is who I resonated with.
This was also around the same time I discovered (in the same music store), the sounds of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. The influence of these incredible women still remain with me nearly 20 years later.
Back in 1999 I was a 3rd year student at The School of Fashion and Design at Otago Polytechnic.
Preparations were well underway for my final Collection. Macy Gray was a constant on my cd player, so it was only fitting that my models walked to a mash-up of her lyrics.
My collection combined natural fibres dyed to an earthy colour palette, infused with delicate hand embroidery on loose, flowing silhouettes. Chunky copper jewellery completed the natural look, heavily influenced by my 3 Ladies of Soul.
But back to 2018.
I had found my seat and was settling in with my plastic glass of red wine and bag of popcorn, as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre slowly began to fill up. Mainly caucasian, with a few token black folk scattered throughout. I always give myself a slight case of whiplash when I see another brown or black person in this city. Even though I don’t know them, I always try to make eye contact and smile.
The stage was set with 5 microphones, a drum kit and 2 keyboards. Lights lit up the backdrop.
As I was getting comfy, I found it a little strange that this event was seated. And then I remembered back to other Jazzfest gigs. The Roots was also a seated concert.
Things that make you go hmmm, hmmm?
It didn’t make sense to me to sit down to listen to music. Especially this genre. Especially Macy Gray.
Now, I don’t mind the odd bit of chair dancing, but it is a little restrictive. And the guy next to me had really long, gangly legs and I silently prayed he wasn’t the chair dancer type.
Soon enough, the 4 piece band came out and sound started to fill the air. In my opinion, it was not loud enough. And the bass.
Was there even bass?? I had to double check to see if the bass player was actually plugged into the sound system. I couldn’t feel the vibration through my seat, and I was only 24 rows from the front of the stage.
But these guys were good.
And then she walked out, owning the stage.
In a floor length red lace dress, with a slight plunge of the neckline. A full skirt which she clutched with her left hand throughout the show, her hands encased in a short black glove. Drop earrings and gold stilettos accompanied her signature smile, cheekbones and afro.
There was no mistaking this presence.
The pink lights clashed dramatically with her red dress, but it kinda matched her quirkiness, and her sense of playfulness.
My spine straightened in my seat.
She began by introducing her band, and then herself.
“My name is Macy Gray.” she declared, and proceeded to curtsey.
Within minutes her head was thrown back in laughter at her own joke. Or maybe it was hysteria, as it was painful to watch her try to warm up a reserved Vancouver crowd. What struck me with awe and what I admired, was how she was her own self.
She got on with the show, as if the audience wasn’t there. That was the magic. Old songs were mixed in with older songs, mixed in with new ones. The flavour remained the same throughout. And even though I had forgotten a few of the lyrics, I impressed myself with the ones I did remember.
And the poor guy in front of me got a bit of a reprieve!
About halfway through the show, Macy persuaded the audience to stand. I honestly thought she realised how awkward it was for me to chair dance.
And she hasn’t gotten so lost in her own world to forget about us. To be fair, this persuasion did take a bit on her part. I think partly due to the fact that people were hesitant to stand because it was a seated venue. And the staff (on past occasions) were not in favour of this action.
But are you really gonna argue with Macy Gray?
People were even reluctant to clap (and we won’t really talk about the gangly guy next to me, who, didn’t really have a sense of the beat, but he did have pure joy written all over his face for the entire concert, so he was kinda forgiven!).
I left the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on a bit of a low. There always is after a live performance. The smiles on people’s faces were starting to fade and the barriers they had let drop were back up in full force. People who were open and friendly just a couple of hours earlier, were now passively fighting for taxis.
As I pulled my denim jacket around me, and waited at the crosswalk, I wondered how these people surrounding me knew of Macy Gray.
What point in their life did her music influence them?
I know for me, I always felt a bit out of place in life, but not when I listened to her.