“Can you believe how perfect this is?” Asked the tanned blonde woman in a straw hat seated next to me at the David Gray concert Saturday night at Maine State Pier.
A pinkish purple sun set over Portland. Double-masted schooners bobbed in the water and sailors aboard the Maine Maritime Academy vessel, stationed to the left of the stage, watched from the top deck. The cheerful Casco Bay Island ferries carried a new, jubilant audience by the stage every half hour.
Could there be a more perfect music experience in the summer?
The weather was 70 and sultry. The crowd, mostly couples in a relaxed mood, sat mesmerized. A few danced along the margins.
How did the edgy UK songsmith, piano player and sensitive crooner fit into the context?
He delivered his romantic, intelligent songs like “Babylon,” “Show in Vegas,” and the powerful “The One I Love,” with heartfelt zeal and passion. It was the first night of his U.S. tour for new album “Mutineers.” And several times he leapt from his piano, or hoisted his guitar as his head shook in spasmodic bursts, driving the rhythm.
The compact performer — backed by a skilled drummer, keyboardist, bass, and guitar players — was physical in his delivery. But even Springsteen, The Boss himself, would be upstaged by the oceanic atmosphere.
As ferry horns blared, Gray played off the improv with a snappy … “You took the words right outta my mouth,” a cappella a la Meatloaf.
A few songs later, Gray, who turned 47 Saturday night (and was serenaded by the crowd at least seven times), riffed off the sight of a yellow and black ferry pulling into view. “Blow that horn boy,” he cooed at the end of a ballad, working the command seamlessly into his dreamy, tuneful reverie.
But it was his 1998 hit “Sail Away,” that skipped the light fandango. As he sang: “Sail away with me honey, I put my heart in your hands. Sail away with me honey now, now, now. Sail away with me. What will be will be …” We hoisted up the sail and headed out of the harbor en masse.
As the love song rose from the stage into the balmy skies across to South Portland’s Bug Light, we embarked on a sensorial voyage. For three minutes we exited the Old Port, leaving memories of winter’s icy grip, stress and the dailiness of life on land. It’s hard to imagine any other venue with such transformative powers. Portland, Maine. Yes summer music is good here.
Another highlight was when Gray acknowledged other singers with a lively medley starting with “Money (That’s What I Want)” a 1960 song by Barrett Strong made famous by the Fab Four. That dovetailed into “Pressure Drop” by The Maytals. Gray’s “It is yooooouuuu Oh yeah, yeah,” had everyone on their feet.
Someone told me this concert series is for tourists. Pshaw! It’s a mini vacation with reasonable beer lines, easy in and out and a matchless setting.
Here’s the rest of the season’s lineup. Sail away with this series now, now, now!