Live Wire / Fade to Black

Macy Gray's third concert in two years here was her worst yet, with unnecessary heavy metal covers and tacky backup. Good thing Coacha Buika picked up the pieces.

Lovers of black singers with throaty voices could enjoy a double dose of this vocal delicacy last weekend. Concha Buika, a Spanish singer of African origin, appeared in Israel for the first time and opened a window that is likely to develop into a continuing love affair with the local audience.

Macy Gray, already a regular in Israel, continued her saga with the Israeli audience in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

As Gray said in one segue (without knowing that she was explaining one of the problems with her performance ), the beginning of an affair is always more exciting than one that has already become routine.

This was the third time in two years that Gray performed in Israel. The first concert was very good and including wonderful moments of soul at its best. The second concert was a step down, but still good. Last week's effort was another step down; it was nice but also a little tiresome. Upon leaving the club, poof, it disappeared from memory.

Macy Gray - Moti Kimche
Moti Kimche

Undoubtedly, this impression was to a large degree a result of overexposure. There are singers who are best seen at short intervals of a year and it appears that Gray is not one of them. But even if you discount my burnout, it was without question a concert that was not as good as the two that preceded it. Gray is an outstanding singer. Nothing will change that fact. She is a fantastic voice and a winning presence that has an intentionally exaggerated element: Sparkling dresses, heavy makeup, huge hairdo, an obese backup singer.

But in the previous concerts the garish element maintained a reasonable level and was backed by excellent groove and fine music. This time, the musical backup was lacking and the whole package seemed a bit tacky.

Take, for example, the backup singers. In Gray's concert a year ago, there were two singers, both of them huge, and they were sexy and amazing. In the concert two days ago, there was only one backup singer, of equally large dimensions, and she functioned as a sort of clown and aerobics instructor.

At a certain point, Gray went off the stage and the backup singer sang Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters." What is the connection between this heavy metal ballad and Gray's soul music? It is unclear. The audience applauded, but to me it was a bit sad.

The concert improved immensely when Gray returned to the stage and showed that when she and her band want to create a real groove, they know how to do it.

Finally there was good music. But this quality was sustained for only around 20 minutes, and then the performance deteriorated again to audience participation, unnecessary covers (wow, the guitarist knows how to play Queen's "We are the Champions!" ) and mediocre originals.

Would Gray have allowed herself to do this performance in New York? I doubt it.

Crashing piano and a free spirit

Buika's Friday night concert at Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center started with a fiasco. The body of the grand piano crashed down in the middle of one of the first songs and landed on the stage with a thud. The pianist, singer and the audience were all shocked. "I've been performing since I was 14," said Buika, "and I've seen quite a few strange things. I saw people stripping in the middle of a concert. But I've never seen anything like this."

It was a one-time malfunction in a very good performance. Like Gray, but in a total different way, Buika is graced with a fantastic voice and a winning personality; the deep, dark voice, raspy and strong, with a slight tendency toward shrieking in the high register. The personality is sensuous and uninhibited.

Buika's first minute on stage said it all: She went to the pianist, embraced him like a lover, took a cup and spilled some of its contents on the stage and took off her shoes. Later on she doted verbally on the young stagehand who was summoned to fix the piano; in short, a free spirit in action.

Buika's expressive and intense singing was supported by an ensemble of a pianist, bassist and percussionist who were good most of the time, but far from thrilling. The music was a nice combination of flamenco, salsa, African music and touches of jazz.

Personally, I would like to see Buika balancing between her flashy theatricality and a more lyrical dimension, and also remaining the entire time in her low and wonderful register instead of climbing occasional to shrieking heights. Even so this was a very impressive concert and for someone who understood the words of the songs (Spanish speakers filled the hall ), it was surely an uncommon pleasure. She will be back. There's no other way.