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.