Through no fault of his own, Isaac Gracie first emerged more as a promising concept than a fully-formed artist. After putting one demo, Last Words, out into the world in 2015, he was caught entirely unawares when the world actually listened. So fervent was the hype around the song that the head of Universal Music flew from LA to see Gracie’s first London show.
But was Gracie actually special, or would this hype prove to be his undoing? After all, the path of the introspective singer-songwriter, raised on a diet of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley, is so well-trodden that the ground’s been churned up.
But the sombre, dusty Last Words, recorded in his bedroom on his computer, is not the sound in which Gracie has set up camp. Instead, he’s taken his Abbey Choir-trained voice, scraped it through gravel, and toured it through multitudinous genres. Two years on from that acclaimed demo, Gracie has caught up with, and evolved beyond, his own runaway hype – and last night’s sold-out, star-studded Village Underground show (Bafta-winning actress Thandie Newton was among those in attendance) was proof of that.
Ushered in by the opening chords of All in My Mind, the 23-year-old emerged bouncing across the length of the stage, his long blond hair framing his face, a wooden crucifix around his neck, looking like a messianic Macaulay Culkin. That initial burst of dynamism was short-lived, but the charisma with which he fizzed was only made more striking by the fact that he stood still, his expression inscrutable, for much of the rest of the set. Besides, there’s expression enough in the way he sings. The Death of You and I, taken from his forthcoming debut album, started off channelling Nick Cave with its country-inflected thrum, before Gracie’s voice self-combusted into something frayed and full of anguish.
Between songs, he shook off this intensity. “Is a handsome nipple showing?” he asked, peering sceptically at his unbuttoned shirt. “No it isn’t.” There were moments of musical levity, too – at one point, he tried out a rock-star strut and rolled his Rs with such relish that he almost purred. A cover of Arctic Monkeys' Fluorescent Adolescent might have been another playful moment, but its slow, melancholic makeover drained it of its humour.
Gracie ended on a high though, with Terrified – a song he wrote as a self-doubting riposte to his own hype. “I’m terrified that maybe,” he sang with a shake of his head, “I wasn’t cut out for this.”
He need not worry in that regard.