David Gray at the Riviera


April 23, 2001



Embraced by the same audience that has taken Dave Matthews to its bosom, the acoustic guitar-based ditties of Englishman David Gray actually have a few advantages over those of his South African benefactor.

For one thing, Gray is much less prone to flights of self-indulgent instrumental wankery. A 90-minute set before a sold-out Riviera Theatre on Saturday night was a concise and focused showcase for the songs from his four albums, including the 1999 hit, "White Ladder."

David Gray at the Riviera

Another advantage the boyish and ebullient Gray has over the increasingly grizzled and dour Matthews is that he draws from a much wider palette of sounds, incorporating elements of techno (think Moby), old-school folk-rock (Fairport Convention) and '70s progressive rock (a little Yes, courtesy of the keyboard player) into his pleasantly lilting strum-alongs.

Best of all, Gray avoids the ubiquitous faux-jazz hippie shuffle beat that dominates the music of many of the jam bands. Granted, his drummer and song-writing collaborator Clune is an obnoxious showboater. But his acoustic breakbeats are mighty impressive.

Smiling all the while, Gray and his three mates cheerfully served up all of the audience favorites--"Babylon," "We're Not Right," "Please Forgive Me"--making for an evening that compensated with good vibes and jolly ringing chords what it lacked in genuine dynamism or music edge.

The Matthews/Hootie and the Blowfish/easy-listening/adult-contemporary audience could certainly do worse. Case in point: opener Nina Gordon.

As she delivered a mercifully brief set drawn entirely from her 2000 solo debut "Tonight and the Rest of My Life," the new Nina made her transformation into prefab pop product complete, displaying not a glimpse of the formerly gutsy power-pop heroine who comprised half of Chicago's alternative-rockers Veruca Salt.

In addition to changing the style of her music--erasing all hints of "Seether" in favor of bland, middle of the road balladry somewhere between Jewel and Stevie Nicks--Gordon now sings in a completely different voice, a breathless, little-girl chirp that fits quite well with the warblings of Britney Spears and her ilk.

It's wrong to expect one's heroes to live in the past; Gordon is right to move on from the old Veruca sound. But her old partner Louise Post has done so in a way that builds on and betters the band's accomplishments. Gordon has betrayed the promise of the past for the expediency of building a forgettable but ultra-commercial new career.