Macy Gray Sings Finns Into a Frenzy at Kulttuuritalo


Earlier in the week, the Grammy-winning, soul, jazz and R&B singing Macy Gray, 54, from the U.S., returned to Helsinki for a gig for the third time in the past seven years. Before the show, the journalist talked with Gray over the phone. Here’s what followed.

Text and photographs: TONY ÖHBERG


Macy Gray getting into the groove at Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki, Finland, on May 17, 2022.  Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

HELSINKI—It was a Tuesday evening in mid-May at Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki’s Alppila district.

Macy Gray started her gig a bit later than it was scheduled to begin (about 40 minutes), but the audience didn’t seem to mind because after a while many walked out just to return holding hands and plastic beer cups.

After sitting and sipping for about half an hour, the crowd started clapping.

Then Gray appeared, skipping lightly, wearing a checkered dress, her hair the trademark afro.

While there were problems during the first songs to properly hear Gray’s voice, by the time she got to “Why Didn’t You Call Me” and the following “Do Something,”—the classics from her 1999 debut How Life Is—the man behind the mixer had found the right knobs. Soon she sounded like the velvety, raspy Macy Gray I last saw in 2015 at the Circus nightclub.

The following rendition of heavy metal group Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” (Covered, 2012) was something else, though.

This was incredible work from the band, especially the interplay between bassist Alex Hyhn, drummer Tamir Barzilay and keyboardist Milly Wes—an ensemble called The California Jet Club. And with Gray’s vocals on top. Jazzy! Funky! Damn!

“Most proper musicians learn jazz,” Gray told the journalist during the phone interview a week before the gig. “It’s consistently in the mix if you play consistently with live musicians.”

“It’s not a jazz show but you hear a solo. . . the way the drummer drums. It’s always there, even if you try to hide it.” — Macy Gray

During our interview, Gray said she was currently working ‘on bringing out more softness’ in her voice. In Helsinki, she sounded soft and strong. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

Gray followed with an overall funky feel with an unknown percussionist on the side hitting accents on drums with a conga sound.

This man seemed to also be the guy who dropped so-called stems, basically samples from Gray’s earlier albums, with a push of a button.

In the interview, Gray told the journalist about “not being too crazy about it” but that they were attempting to do it “in a really unique way.”

That was the case. Samples floated here and there, especially toward the end when Gray changed her dress to electric blue and went all out with a long disco song.

At one point, Gray entertained the crowd by telling the spectators that she managed to persuade her band on a 14-hour flight to Finland from Los Angeles, California, by telling them that Google said that Finnish women “have the biggest boobs in the world.”

“I really listen to singers even if I don’t like the song. I stop and listen to the singer, you can learn a lot that way—different things people do with their voice. ” — Macy Gray

Gray’s voice was in top form. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

New songs were also on the list, for example, “Mercy” from her upcoming album, The Reset (July 8). The audience waved their hands to this slow-ish tune with a marching beat; they had come for the music, not the boobs.

Toward the end, Gray changed dresses again (this time a black and white checkered dress with bling), and the musicians sat on chairs and created an intimate barroom feel with another upcoming song “Thinking of You.”

At this point, it was clear that Gray’s voice was still in top form.

In our interview, Gray said that she has developed her voice over a long career by “drinking, smoking and touring” and by taking voice lessons and listening to singers like the French chanson legend, Edith Piaf. Other notable influences include soul singers Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder.

After playing for about an hour and a half, Gray finished her set with a fantastic live interpretation of “I Try,” (How Life Is) which got the audience dancing and swaying.

Too bad, that we didn’t get to hear “I Like It,” which Gray said she wrote the day before our interview.

“I have no idea where it came from, but I was thinking about playing it in Helsinki,” she said.

“It’s kind of a call and answer,” Gray said.

“I say something, and the audience says ‘I like it!”

Gray laughed hard.

The journalist laughed hard.

And when the audience walked out from Kulttuuritalo, many laughed hard, others were tipsy with a shy smile.

One thing was sure: We all liked it!


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