Record sales are slumping, music labels are struggling, live music tickets sales are stalled, but have no fear music fans, Gavin DeGraw is back. What you mean, you’re sick of him already, too? I don’t blame you. For all the talk about him being labeled the future of music, I have yet to believe the hype. His debut album Chariot shined in spots and faltered mightily in others. Having heard he is a great live performer, I decided to check it out myself.
On April 20, at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, DeGraw and his four piece band (Brian Dennis on guitar, Casey Tate on bass, Jimmy Wallace on keys, Joe Hanna on drums) played a crisp, tightly focused set of songs that drew from his upcoming self-titled album as well as Chariot.
Opening with new song “Next to Me,” DeGraw sounded muffled and drowned out by his bandmates and also half-asleep. He muttered a few hellos and thank yous but never really said much. Instead he was all business and proceeded to barrel through songs like “Follow Through,” “Just Friends,” and new songs, the groove-based “Wait a Minute, Sister,” and the soaring “We Belong Together,” in which his voice took on a life of his own.
He moved onto the song “Untamed,” which came across as corny but took off when he separated himself from the band and took off with a piano solo and some vocal improv. The move proved that he is at his best without a percussive backing band. Left to just his piano and voice, DeGraw shows his superstar potential and that he is more than just a flash in the pan. Instead he shows tremendous vocal prowess that evokes greats like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and it’s a shame he dresses his songs up with the trappings of modern rock.
On “Chemical Party,” he stepped away from his trademark piano and strapped on a guitar, prefacing the song by saying, “I used to party a lot, and this is a song about a party that went very wrong.” Though the song was boring, he added a vocal improv towards the end that made it effective and winning.
He stuck with the guitar for the new song “Cop Stop” and of all the new songs played, this was one of the better ones. When he wasn’t adjusting and positioning his ever-present baseball cap from his head, he was busy pounding away at the piano. In addition to his originals, he adorned the set with a George Jones Cover, “Honkytonk Angel,” in which he added the line, “from Long Island,” to the delight of fans, that was actually humorous and cute without being corny. His best and only other cover of the night was Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You,” which was without a doubt astonishing. In just four minutes DeGraw proved that he is in fact an old soul singing modern songs and that fact is wholly depressing. Whereas singers like Ray LaMontagne, Britain’s James Hunter and even former American Idol Elliot Yamin can sing old songs and still be a hit DeGraw feels the need to dress up his songs with contemporary touches.
Thankfully though he didn’t pander to his fans. Unlike John Mayer and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carabba, DeGraw did little to please or cater to his predominantly female fan base and instead performed just as a musician should. No bones about it, straight from the heart, trying to touch every soul in the room, regardless of gender. That part about his set was flawless, most especially on the gospel-tinged “She Holds a Key,” and the pensive “Relative,” which unfortunately suffers from some terrible lyrics, “A flashlight isn’t quite sunlight, a wet dream isn’t quite sex, but everything’s relative.”
For every attempt at corniness though, he was equally self-effacing and amiable. When he thanked the crowd for putting up with all the new songs it brimmed with gratitude and sincerity. Indulging the crowd and his own musical abilities he played what he called, “a silly song, a bar song,” entitled “Sometimes You Need a Few Drinks To Fall In Love.” A song he admitted, “I used to play when I worked at this Italian place called Rudy’s in Hell’s Kitchen in the early 90s.” It was a schlocky offering that dripped with corniness but managed to show that at his essence, he is someone that loves to perform.
He closed with “Nice To Meet You Anyway and “I Don’t Want To Be,” and for his encore performed the somber new song “Young Love,” and the much-loved “Chariot.”
Though his lyrics have improved from his last album, he still seems to be mired in romance and relationships. This is anything but a positive and is one thing that threatens both his credibility and his shelf-life. Though new single “In Love With a Girl,” is soaring up the charts, I’m waiting for the real Gavin to come through. Just him, a voice and a guitar. That’s where his essence lies.
Next to Me
“Wait a Minute Sister”
We Belong Together
You Cheated On Me
In Love with a Girl
She Holds a Key
Sometimes You Need a Drink to Fall In Love
Honkytonk Angel (George Jones cover)
A Song For You (Donny Hathaway cover)
“I Never Wanna Wake Up”
Nice to Meet You Anyway
I Don’t Want To Be
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