The Gray Havens kicked off a wide-ranging 35-city US tour near Atlanta with a sold-out show. The show opened with special guest Chris Renzema, who greeted the crowd and soon realized he had a loyal following in the house. Enthusiastic singalongs accompanied his acoustic set, which featured some nimble finger-picking and Renzema's good rapport with the audience. The half-hour of music included four songs from I'll be the Branches, along with a new song, "Seventeen," from the recent Centricity signee.
After a short break, The Gray Havens took the stage. An avian theme set the mood, recalling the band's "Three Birds in Babylon" with a hand-painted backdrop of birds in flight behind an empty birdcage. The Gray Havens are a band not so esoteric as to defy all convention, but they're different enough that it wasn't surprising to see an unusual opening. With little fanfare and no grand announcement, the band walked on stage, and David Radford picked up a silver trumpet, played a series of somber whole notes, and sang in a low register, "Dressed in chains, now she waits."
The song set the tone for an element of creative tension that undergirded the set. Like the spiritual realm that adds mystery to so many of the stories of Christendom, The Gray Havens' songs play with allegory and symbol, allow shadow to help prove light, and never back away from imagination.
The energy picked up right away with the bright keys and driving beats of "See You Again." After the song, David Radford declared, though he admitted that he wasn't supposed to speak yet, that that was the band's first time playing the song for a crowd. Indeed, as the tour opener, the night held many firsts.
A less-welcome "first" was a series of technical issues that plagued the remainder of the set. Instruments and mics would sometimes drop out of the mix, and twice the click track ran through the mains instead of a loop. Licia Radford's keys were lost on "Ghost of a King," and the encouragement that greeted her apology prompted her to say, "Y'all are the nicest people I know."
Another first: the band played their first cover song, "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and showed off some extraordinary vocals along the way. It was preceded by the sort of exchange one might find at very few concerts: "Any fans of Tolkien out there? C.S. Lewis?" … more applause than one might expect … and then a quote from G.K. Chesterton. Those are the sort of charming moments that let fans know they're among people who understand them, celebrating together the delight of good music and the stories that awaken our senses.
The band was solid throughout the night. Asher Peterson's drums were the glue that held together the songs' often complex arrangements and guided them through the technical issues. Hitoshi Yamaguchi joined the rhythm section on bass and added cello. James Yardley played electric guitar until it was swiped so David could jam out on "Diamonds and Gold," leaving a game Yardley to play keys. (He even fell victim to a purloined microphone at one point when David's failed. Poor James!)
The highlights of the concert were often small moments: the faintest hum of bow on strings before "Three Birds"; David's emotional delivery of Propaganda's rap in "High Enough"; the overwhelming sense of gratitude and communion shared during "Storehouse." These newest Gray Havens songs play remarkably well live, and they will serve the duo for many tours to come.
By the end, the band gathered center-stage to perform some of their oldest favorites: "Far Kingdom," which will soon be re-recorded, and then by request, "Jack and Jill, pt. 2." Finally, having soldiered amiably through so many glitches, David declared, "I'm tired of all this technology!" He and Licia quite literally unplugged, descended the stage to the floor, and led the crowd in "Gray Flowers" with no amplification at all. Fans leaned in to hear, to sing along, and to share in a fitting ending.-- Mark D. Geil, 2/12/19
Chris Renzema Set List
The Gray Havens Set List
The Gray Havens
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