Jeff Buckley 'Grace' Tribute - Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton
As summer has officially come to an end as we start to drift into a chilly and drizzly autumnal night, the cozy gig space Upstairs at The Ritzy fills to capacity with gig goers, young and old, to celebrate the life and talent of a man who left us far too early. A communal and friendly atmosphere providing warmth enough for the coldest evening. Tonight’s headliner Gary Lucas is awaited with baited breath, after all this is a living legend who not only co-wrote 'Grace' and 'Mojo Pin' but has also worked with such giants as Captain Beefheart amongst others, but this is a multi-act tribute night after all and the line up is certainly more killer than filler.
As the crowd start to filter in and take their positions on the floor, sitting cross legged, I start to wonder how many of the people surrounding me (the acts included) were alive or musically aware when Grace first came out. The proceedings are then kicked off with Rory Doherty taking to the stage. Looking like a cross between Josh Homme and Jake Busey, the member of Anison delivers with his looped guitar and vocal effects bringing an 80s Cure-esque tinge to his set, including a powerful version of ‘Nightmares by the Sea’.
Next up is the corkscrewed folk and soul crossover Burnz, with powerful voice sweeping from gravelly lows to falsetto highs who delivers on his own tracks melding the soul of Joan Armatrading and Bill Withers with a more modern tinge. Unfortunately, it’s his cover of Buckley’s ‘So Real’ that comes off as too rushed and is the lower point of his set.
Molly Beanland is next up with a purely Jeff set, with airings of ‘Last Goodbye’, ‘Grace’, and ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’. The softly spoken Molly later confesses that the set was the result of last minute rehearsals, and at times that was evident with during some of the higher notes and structure of tracks such as ‘Grace’. However, it was the set closer ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’, which the audience could tell held a lot of personal importance to her, that blew everyone away.
With a classically trained and powerful voice and piano combination, the bashful Bella McKendree took to the stage covering Jeff’s cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind’, and confesses to not ever listening to the Dylan original (leading to mock indignation from the audience). In addition to covering ‘What Will You Say’, and some originals from her new EP, Bella is one to watch as she combines elements of London Grammar and Antony and the Johnsons with some strong songwriting.
Relative newcomers to London Lilium, appearing as a three piece, are up next and tear up the stage with American Rock Incubus style vocals over the agit-Math Rock groove of bands like Foals and Trash Kit. They are a band having fun, and really in love with the music as they finish off the set with a cracking version of ‘Dream Brother’.
The penultimate act, Grammy-nominated songwriter Scott McFarnon, takes to the stage and it becomes abundantly clear that he is a songwriter by trade. While having a strong voice and more than competent skills, his original songs are a songwriting paint by numbers, ticking the right boxes and bordering on cliche but overall leaving this reviewer feeling a little cold. That is until he pulls a stellar version of ‘Mojo Pin’ out the bag and leaves the stage on a well deserved high.
By which time, it is the headliner’s time to shine, armed with a weather beaten acoustic Gary Lucas’s set is part gig and part seminar. And the audience hang on his every word as he regales us with how he met Jeff and their working career together in such warm self deprecating manner, several times saying “if you want to hear more about that story, then you’d have to buy my book”. Accompanied by the fantastic Mari Conti, they deliver a set of known, and some not so well known tracks that Gary and Jeff collaborated on reworked perfectly for acoustic and vocals with highlights including a sublime ‘In The Cantina’ and ‘Grace’ with Mari’s soaring voice and the lightning quick Gary.
And with that, it’s over. A playback of Grace over the speakers as the crowd mills around, sharing their own stories with strangers about how and when they first came to Jeff’s music, how it affected them, and what else it turned them onto. A communal spirit surrounding the beauty and power music can bring, something the man himself would have been quite proud of.
Special thanks to Stephan Burn for providing the photos