Idiosyncratic alt-soul star Macy Gray seemed ready to dazzle at the Lyric Opera House Thursday night. Reminiscent of an old-school soul revue, her stage design included a sparkly silver curtain as a backdrop.
And her two backup singers wore matching fringy dresses and swooping, Supremes-style wigs. Even Gray's microphone stand glittered, and she came armed with solid material from her new album, Big.
However, the show's attendance was anything but. With entire sections empty, the place was barely half full. Still, the singer-songwriter delivered a well-paced, two-hour set of the best songs culled from her four albums.
But most of the credit goes to Gray's excellent eight-piece band, Liquid Love. Although the tall, slender artist has recently glamorized her image (she opened the show in a sharp black pant suit), Gray still doesn't seem comfortable on stage. Her movements are awkward and tentative; she fidgets with her hair and clothes.
It took a while before the artist warmed to the crowd. Early on, her two soulful backup vocalists and her amazing singing keyboardist almost stole the show.
But when Gray finally found her groove, she was engaging. Her raspy, woozy voice gave an attractive edge to the funky "Relating to a Psychopath." And she sounded sexy and bluesy on "Shoo Be Do," a standout from Big.
Toward the end of the show, though, things turned downright loopy with a kitschy performance of "Strange Behavior," a dark comedic tale of murder, and "Oblivion," a wild number about nothingness.
But the hourlong set from last night's opener, the underrated funk-jazz band Brand New Heavies, was more accessible and far tighter. Charismatic lead vocalist N'dea Davenport twirled and strutted around the stage like a pint-sized Tina Turner as the band delivered one muscular jam after the other.
Several came from the group's latest CD, last year's brilliant Get Used to It. The interracial quartet - augmented by two horns, a backing vocalist and keyboardist - also included such BNH classics as "Never Stop," "Dream On Dreamer" and "Stay This Way."
The crowd was enthusiastic. Too bad it was so small.