March 17, 2003
by Mike Armitage
At first glance, Macy Gray looks like she doesn't take shit from nobody. When she strides onto the Guvernment stage sporting long baby blue hot pants and her fleecy brown hairdo, she appears taller than her bandmates. With her eyes poised on the crowd, she grips the microphone and leads off with "Relating To A Psychopath," a brash song about relationships gone sour. It's all a tough way of saying hello. But, seconds after finishing the song, she commands the subdued crowd in her babyish drawl to, "shake your hips, shake your ass!" and continues the set with "Call Me," an ode to being desperate for love. Suddenly, she's transformed into the sweet talker, the giddy-with-glee lover. A wave of warmth floats above the cigarette smoke. And it's enough to coax the crowd to start dancing and waving their hands in the air. These are the two faces of Macy Gray, the Grammy-winning artist that mixes raunchy tough love and sweet insecurity, tempered by her trademark sandy-sounding voice. Not only is her split personality the key to her success as an alternative pop star; it's the fuel for her energetic live performance. Much like her hit albums, The Way Life Is and The Id, she delivers a roster of up-tempo songs, including "Oblivion" and "Sweet Baby." Thankfully, none of tracks go stale or meander into sappy ballads, because her voice is so unique that her every emotion sounds genuinely sincere. She lets each song breathe, adding in conga solos, DJ scratching and trumpets from her tightly synched seven-member band. With any change in rhythm she can transport you into four different decades. At any moment it feels like youâ€™re watching Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald or Erykah Badu. During the break in playing, Gray makes love to the microphone, shit-talking about politics, penises and bitter love. "Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak" starts playing, the banter is over and the seduction is on. She shakes her hips, drags a towel between her legs and throws it into the audience. The band members take off their shirts. The crowd follows. And then she drops her pants. But it's not obscene; itâ€™s just Macy Gray. Gray started her encore with her new, upbeat single, "When I See You," from her upcoming album The Trouble Relating To Myself. It didn't overshadow the next song; her most famous 1998 hit single "I Try." For that one Macy Gray proved she didn't need to try. The crowd sang it for her.