Review: Isaac Gracie @ Exeter Phoenix

Gracie has the ‘last words’ on love.

I stood at the bar, beer in hand, amongst the bundle of young people all raring to see the London native swoon his way onto the stage. The fans weren’t rowdy, nor were they uncontrollable. They simply sipped their drinks, with the clinking of glasses and a lingering sense of anticipation in the air. Not one of wondering anticipation, though, but one of knowing.

Isaac Gracie has been hovering around the public’s ears for a while now. He tiptoed into the public eye with his first self-produced demo EP Songs from my bedroom which, rightly so, got him a record deal with EMI Records in 2017. Sporting express comparisons with Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan, it was clear to see that he had the credentials to be the millennial answer to folk storytellers of time gone by.

His music does not exclusively hold its power in the lyrics like one would expect of a singer-songwriter. Gracie contradicts his vocal’s tender nature with the thud of drums and the spurring energy of guitar. In turn, he produces a collection of love songs that not only strum on heartstrings, but prompt revolution from all his love drunken listeners. With that in mind, I could begin to understand why his audiences were so calm.

Gracie took to the stage, his long blonde hair framing his charm. With no introduction, he opened the set with two debut album favourites, Running on Empty and Terrified; both rely on the driving power of his band’s musical prowess. From the opening number, I was in adoration of Gracie’s vocal delivery. After having a busy year with his album release and the relentless festival circuit, his vocals were as strong in November as they were on the record. His clear diction and vocal melodies stood sturdy against the trio of instruments that stood behind him.

After opening with power, Gracie quickly turned to his more stripped back tunes, Hollow Crown and an early track off his second EP entitled Love (ain’t always so good). This cast a blanket of quiet over the audience; they stood in awe of his stage presence. Although at first bold and flamboyant, Gracie appeared to be humble and cautious. In between the two songs, he thanked the audience directly, stating “you guys really don’t have to listen to me, but you do and it is a really wonderful thing.”

The band then returned after this dip in tone to play some more of the faster, more upbeat songs, including his break out single, The Death of You and I. For me this was one of the standout moments within Gracie’s performance. Gracie clearly has the stage presence to stand alone, however with a band behind him, his showmanship shines through. There was grit in his voice and power in his clasp on the guitar. Isaac Gracie stood strong, showing the audience that love isn’t just about disappointment, but being proactive in its wake.

Gracie played his way through his debut album, the audience mimicking both words and their intentions. Though, the prominent moment within the show was his unassuming performance of Show Me Love. His percussion was a whisper, and only the rattle of a bass string could be heard otherwise. His vocals, again impeccable, held the performance together. His words seamlessly intertwined with the musicality of the band.

It was during this song, with Gracie retiring all instruments to put his full efforts into his vocals, that I realised his mass appeal. Isaac Gracie stands unique in millennial pop-culture because his appeal derives from opposing this fashionable post-modern demand for self-ridicule. We live in a world where emotion must be served cold with a topping sauce of cynicism. But Gracie is not afraid to be soppy, not afraid to be honest and to sing solemnly about a lost lover. He takes himself seriously in his emotion and that really works. Gracie returned to the stage for an encore, in which he played his timeless Dylan inspired song, Last Words. He encouraged the crowd to sing along with him, Gracie’s face stunned to amazement as the entire crowd obliged.

I left the performance enthused and impressed. Yet, I was also emotionally cleansed. Isaac Gracie is an archetypal singer-songwriter, hosting a range musical talent. Don’t get me wrong, this can be rightly identified in other musicians alongside him. However, for me, he stands separate. Gracie is the love drunk maverick, the infatuated Casanova who will always use his music to express emotional truths, and it seems to be working very well for him. I guess there is something to be said for taking love songs seriously.

– Tom Moodey


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