An intriguing triple bill on a Bonfire night saw Tim and myself driving through filthy conditions (rain precluding the setting off of many fireworks tonight, I’d warrant) to Oxford for this early one, parking up just before 7 and getting into this rapidly-filling venue for a sell-out show, in good time for the first act.
Good thing too, as this was my main attraction; Jason Lytle, former main inspiration behind quirky California dreamy psychedelic alt-rockers Grandaddy, one of the most languidly inspirational and consistent acts of the late 90’s/ early noughties, and the only band to get my Top Act award from 2 different Reading Festivals! Jason, armed only with a fat acoustic, a sparsely-operated drum machine which, on the one occasion he did use it, he then accused of trying to upstage him (!) and his high-pitched, plaintive voice, treated us to a clutch of Grandaddy classics in his set, the highlights being an early “Now It’s On”, and the closer “Miner At The Dial A View”. “I’m having a good time, I get to watch John and Midlake every night,” he said, to which I shouted in response, “and they get to watch you!” Lovely stuff, which made me miss Grandaddy all the more.
Next up, John Grant, Tim’s tip, was a large, imposing bearded American with a real crooner’s voice; deep, resonant and lushly expressive. His cracked, late night singer-songwriter material was occasionally Scott Walker-esque, moody and slow-burn, yet he displayed a quirky lyrical bent at odds and yet somehow complementing this; “I only wanted you for sex and for someone who looks smashing in athletic wear,” being a personal favourite. However, his final number was as heart-wrenching as any Dashboard Confessional number, and overall he left a very favourable impression.
By contrast, however, Midlake were dreadful. For a moment when they took the stage at 9, I thought they’d taken a wrong turn from the Fillmore, circa 1969, as they now sported full-on beards and hippy checks. The music underlined this; new songs about “creatures of the earth” and suchlike (I was waiting for one about trolls), set to dreary, plodding pastoral sludge of the worst order. Their older, more thoughtful and varied material (even the likes of “Rosscoe”) was dragged down to the same level; to think I’d tagged them as potentially the new Grandaddy! Rachel was right in the first place when she dismissed this lot as, “hippyshit”! Halfway through their interminably long (the thick end of 2 hours) set I gave serious consideration to getting a ticket for upstairs, where Edwyn Collins was playing! The only saving grace from this desperate set was the encore, when they dragged Grant on for a run-through a song by his former band The Tsars, then did likewise with Lytle, delivering a splendid, moving “AM180” which only served to threw Midlake’s set into sharp relief.
So, a disappointing finish, but 2 fine supports, and Jason Lytle reinforcing why I loved Grandaddy so much, with a super little set. I wish they’d come back…