Saturday, 1 April 2017

1,031 GRANDADDY, Amber Arcades, Bristol Colston Hall, Friday 31st March 2017

“I wish they [Grandaddy] would come back…”

I called this gig, way back on Bonfire Night 2010 (gig 797), when former (and future!) Grandaddy mainman Jason Lytle played a short but sparkling set of his former charges’ numbers, in support of Midlake, one of many bands to briefly and undeservedly claim the title of “the new Grandaddy”… We didn’t want a new Grandaddy, we just wanted the old one back! One of the finest and most consistent bands of the late 90’s/ early 00’s with their blend of parched yet warm alt-Country and lush, woozy psychedelia, and the only band to be my Reading Festival “Band of the Weekend” twice (also being one “New-Order-playing-Joy-Division-songs” set short of winning that honour 3 times!), they’d been much missed since their 2006 split. But now, after a short (relatively speaking for reunion bands these days) hiatus, they’re back, easing in with sporadic US gigs and Festivals, then a new album, this year’s fine and melodic if hardly groundbreaking and very typical “Grandaddy”-sounding “Last Place” and, finally, a tour!

Tix were duly snapped up on the first opportunity, so a sunny Spring evening saw Rachel and myself depart early, this time avoiding the annoying and copious Bristol roadworks by heading up the hill to the Level 5 Trenchard entrance! We parked up and hit the venue in good time to meet up with Bristol friends Kiron and Alison, and their friend Mike, for some rock chat, before popping into this large auditorium for openers Amber Arcades, on at 8 as advised by vocalist Annelotte, manning the merch stand earlier! After easing in with a slow-burn opener, they hit their stride with “Right Now”, my favourite on their sweetly low-key, pastoral and strumalong Belle And Sebastian meets Stereolab debut album “Fading Lines”. However this and the subsequent “Come With Me” were much more overt and dynamic “live”, and dare I say it, much more “rocking” than even their Nada Surf support slot last year, before they diverted back into more pastoral territory again, “This Time” featuring some hazy, smooth harmonies. I tried hard not to make the obvious Bettie Serveert comparisons as well (Dutch band, blonde vocalist wearing a baseball cap, quirky indie pop etc.), as the Stereolab-esque metronomic groove of “Turning Light” closed out a fine opening set.

We repaired to the back bar between sets, then the buzzer signified Grandaddy’s imminent entrance, so we headed back into the now-packed venue, unfortunately pitching up in a cramped spot ¾ back with tall blokes in front of us, chatty cathys behind, and a pile of coats on the floor which I kept tripping over. Not great viewing, but luckily there was a large screen backdrop which projected films of nature and industry (plus lots of long ol’ freight trains) throughout, to complement Grandaddy’s musical performance. As for the boys themselves; they wandered on just after 9, again looking like 5 Amish farmhands who’ve taken a wrong turning, and eased into the chugging, melancholy “Hewlett’s Daughter”, the mix clear and precise albeit for Jason’s high-pitched, Neil Young vocals, which were a little echoey. “Hi – OK, now I got the talking out of the way!” quipped Lytle before the languid ballad “Yeah Is What We Had”, and to be fair, apart from fulsomely praising short-notice stand-in guitarist Shaun, thereafter he let the music did the talking!

My 7th time overall “live” experience of these Modesto natives, yet the first since Reading Festival 2003 (13½ years ago!); damn, that’s awhile! The warm and fuzzy “Laughing Stock”, featuring raindrop-like keyboard patterns, was a lovely early highlight, like a hazy, half remembered dream, underpinning a lushly melodic yet low-key set start. However “The Crystal Lake” finally showed some of the power of old, the haunting, plaintive riff building to a strident, dramatic and powerful denouement, , the wolf bearing its’ teeth at last, allaying my fears that this set might be lazily sliding into a “Grandaddy by numbers” performance. The abrasive keyboard riff of newie “Evermore” recalled an eerie 60’s spy film soundtrack; then the unmistakable riff of “AM180” preceded a potent, tough rendition and the set highlight thus far. Great, but ultimately topped by set closer “Now It’s On”, groovy and dynamic, a thing of wonder and plangent beauty.

I tired of stepping on the coat pile, and took a solo push forward for the encore, rather infuriatingly finding plenty of space to at least swing a small rodent about 3 rows from the front, stage left. Bah! If only I’d known… Jason announced, “one new song and one old song,” for the encore, and “The Boat Is In The Barn” preceded a snappy, punkish blast through “Summer Here Kids”, to finish a variable yet overall thoroughly enjoyable set, an entirely valid and worthwhile return for these old favourites.

A surreal moment afterwards; I grabbed the list and a fellow punter asked for a photo of it, he couldn’t get a decent pic so I said, “no worries, I’ll put it on my blog,” to which he replied, “hang on, are you Dave Rose?” Turns out he – Andrew – and I crop up at the same gigs occasionally so he checks out my blog afterwards. So hi Andrew, hope you enjoyed this one, and see you down the front, dude! Farewells and a quick chat with Annelotte, again on the merch stand, then we navigated our way around the worst of the Bristol roadworks for a return before midnight. So overall, it still felt as though Grandaddy were/ are easing themselves back in, but no matter – I wished they’d come back, and I’m glad they have!

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