Thursday, 19 May 2011
816 GRANT LEE BUFFALO, London Royal Festival Hall, Wednesday 18 May 2011
After a disappointing alt-Country excursion to London last time out, I was looking for better from this one, a rare show from one of the progenitors of said genre, Grant Lee Buffalo. A band that’d dazzled me at Reading Festival 1993 with a Sunday opening set of shimmering and very loud acoustic angst, plus another set later that day (!), both based on their raw, stripped-back yet eminently listenable debut CD “Fuzzy”, I’d then accumulated their subsequent 3 CDs with admittedly diminishing interest, and managed to remain oblivious to any live outings since then! However, after very nearly joining Tim a couple of years back to see mainman Grant Lee Phillips do his solo thang at Bush Hall, I happily volunteered to join him and pretty much the entire Moody family, for this “reunion” performance.
Tim, Ellen and I set off at 5 pm for an entertaining drive to Hammersmith, parking up at 7, meeting car 2 then tubing to Embankment, crossing the river and hitting this grand venue just in time to miss the support act, which irked Tim a little. The crew then left me as I’d booked my seat after theirs, so I was Billy No-Mates in my seat! Ran into London friend Lisa – oddly enough, whilst leaving her a message on her phone! – and caught up, before taking my Upper Stalls seat (actually fairly near where Evan and I had sat for They Might Be Giants!) in good time for Grant Lee Buffalo’s unfeasibly early entrance at 8.30.
The band – the original trio for this reunion date – were led onstage by Grant Lee Phillips, kicking into opener “The Shining Hour”, from that old “Fuzzy” CD, much more strident, drum-dominated and squally, almost Velvet Underground-like, than the acoustic-led strumalong CD version. A touching “I Wish You Well” followed, before Phillips announced the band were, “like some strange comet that comes around every 15 years, bringing pestilence and turbulence in its wake!” Hmm, no wonder I hadn’t seen them since Reading 1993… A superb reading of the self-labelled, “politically tinged romantic ballad,” namely “Jupiter And Teardrop” was up next, setting the tone for their set. Evoking a similar version of Americana to Sparklehorse, a landscape of wide skies, deserts, canyons, outcrops and buttes, ramshackle truckstops and telegraph poles stretching into the distance, they nevertheless eschew the Hoss’ deathly hush in favour of charming acoustic-powered brain-hugging earworm hooks and thrilling squally cacophony, often in the same song! Tonight was a gift for the aficionados, Phillips and co. playing songs they themselves loved, the opening bars of each number greeted with applause, and Phillips, clearly psyched to be here and an excellent, intelligent and witty between-song orator throughout, embellishing the very fine material perfectly with his stretched nasal tones, which always puts me in mind of Mike Scott, of 80’s stadium folkies The Waterboys.
A final set-closing double of the strident, tumbling, Dylan-esque protest ballad “America Snoring”, introduced with some ironic observations on its’ relevance today by Phillips, and an octave-straddling “Fuzzy” were my set highlights, and an encore showcasing a deliciously slow-burn “The Hook” capped a splendid 1¾ hour performance, as good as they possibly could be and way better than I was hoping. Another chat with Lisa before hitting the road via a kebab shack in Hammersmith (!), to cap a great – if late – night out!