Jeff Buckley – live at the Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

Like any music fan I have been to my fair share of gigs. Hundreds became thousands once I started putting them on for a living. Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, The Who, Elvis Costello, Santana, R.E.M, Booker T & The MGs, Paul Weller, The Specials, The Flaming Lips were good, great or utterly glorious, but one name stands head and shoulders above these as the best live performance I have ever witnessed: Jeff Buckley at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth on 5th March 1995.

The Mystery White Boy tour took Buckley around the world, with the Wedgwood Rooms being his last UK date. An MVC collective travelled up en masse having discovered Grace towards the end of ’94, tingling with anticipation. The album was clearly beyond brilliant, but could Jeff Buckley do it live? Now, if trying to sum up his album Grace using words alone is tough, attempting to chronicle this gig with the articulation it deserves is an impossibility. But, after twenty-five years there are many things I remember, so I’ll do my best.

The Wedgewood Rooms was busy but by no means full, and I was stood literally two metres from the front of the stage, so five metres from Jeff Buckley. That sounds a bit creepy, like I wanted to touch or smell him, but his presence was so mesmerising I was riveted to the spot. He looked as cool as fuck rocking a drenched white vest and I was most likely drooling. Again, not creepy. Starting with Dream Brother, the set was most of Grace and included a few covers including a full-throttle version of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams and ended with the most jaw-dropping version of Hallelujah.

Searching for a video of Jeff Buckley performing around March ’95, this performance and set list from Chicago is as near as I remember, all available on YouTube…

My over-riding memory of the set was its overwhelming intensity. On Grace, the exquisite Lilac Wine and Hallelujah are beautiful beyond words. Performed live the depth of emotion, helped by absolute silence other than Buckley’s vocals and guitar, was something I will never forget. Again, words can never be enough but that was the closest I’ve ever felt to a spiritual reaction. His band were stunningly good, being able to follow Buckley’s creative flow and as with the album, the musical contrasts were immense. Eternal Life matched Kick Out The Jams for opulent, mind-blowing ferocity.

When a brilliant album is played live you want the performance to do it justice. You don’t want to leave feeling like the band just couldn’t do it on stage. With Jeff Buckley that worry wasn’t just dispelled, it went way, way beyond my expectations. With his utterly tragic loss just two years later, I feel so unbelievably lucky and so blessed to have the privilege of seeing Jeff Buckley perform live. His beauty and aura shone as bright as his lustrous, prestigious talent.

Jeff Buckley – ‘Grace’

There are some albums where I can remember the exact time and place I found them, or they found me. Or someone introduces it, like James whilst smoking his full strength Malboro in the processing room at MVC Bournemouth. He found it, shouted about it and from my recollection it was an escalation of appreciation from most staff members over the next few months. In September ’94 Jeff Buckley’s Grace hit quite a few of us very, very hard.

I had heard of his dad, Tim, but had yet to discover his music so I was unaware of that part of the family’s legacy. Grace is an album where elaborate superlatives are nowhere near enough. The music contained within the ten tracks is of such extraordinary quality that simply describing what you hear will always fall short. Of far more importance is the music’s overwhelming effect on your emotions, your soul and your senses. Goosebump level is always a good indicator of a great album and Grace scores ridiculously high on never-ending skin tingles. So, apologies, I’m going to fall short.

There’s something about Jeff Buckley that feels so undeniably veracious and real, and about Grace that feels so unquestionably convincing. Every single second of Grace sounds like he has to make it count, there’s not a moment where the intensity drops or the music lacks anything other than total conviction. Opener Mojo Pin is almost a tease, suggesting Buckley’s genius before the title trace Grace confirms it with a last two minutes that just erupt. The range of his vocals within these ten tracks is sumptuous, but to call Buckley’s soaring multi-octave vocals angelic or ethereal would be just too simple, just too lazy. The depth of emotion is everything, and it’s everywhere.

The album’s covers are impeccable. Lilac Wine, Corpus Christi Carol and Hallelujah do more than highlight Buckley’s vocal prowess; he’s taken great songs and with stunning arrangements made them his own, and as far as musical contrasts go in successive songs, Corpus Christi Carol into Eternal Life just shows Buckley’s full range. Eternal Life is the nearest Grace gets to grunge, but for me this rides all over the genre. It’s intense, thunderous, and utterly beautiful. Finally, Dream Brother sums up the brilliance of Grace. It has everything; a dreamy and transcendental feel which just radiates the sort of excessive depth that you just want to sink into.

Grace is my favourite album since the 1970s. That’s over forty years of great artists and albums, and this one tops the lot. David Bowie once claimed Grace to be among his favourite albums ever made, calling it the one album he would take to a desert island. Jimmy Page called Grace close to being his favourite album of the decade and Bob Dylan named Buckley one of the greatest songwriters of the decade. Says it all.