Over the years, Grant Lee Phillips--as a member of Grant Lee Buffalo and as a solo artist--has garnered an enviable list of patrons: Bob Mould, REM, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, the, er, Cranberries, various movie and TV types, and of course, the Largo cabal. Bob Mould's recommendation initially moved me to check out this talent, but Grant has more than proven that he can stand on his own, and I see his show every time he comes to town.
Grant Lee Phillips, Cafe du Nord, July 28, 2006: Grant has been the gateway drug, of sorts, for at least two major music-related epiphanies in my life. Back in 1994, I saw Grant Lee Buffalo at Slim's, for a scorching gig that not only stands as my favorite concert ever but also cemented my love of American indie rock.
Some time after the group disbanded, I heard of Grant's reemergence at a certain little club in Hollywood. A couple of bootleg recordings even made their way to me. In 1998, I finally got there, caught some shows, noticed a particular multitalented, multi-instrumentalist frequent guest--and, well, you know the rest.
It's hard to believe that it's been two years since Grant played San Francisco, but I can't complain, as I've had the pleasure of catching him elsewhere in the interim. For this stop, he was accompanied by only a drummer: Kevin Jarvis, who also played on the Virginia Creeper tour.
Grant was here ostensibly to promote his new CD, nineteeneighties, launching with "Under the Milky Way" and "Wave of Mutilation," a longtime staple of his solo shows. But just about immediately afterward, someone shouted out a request for "Jupiter and Teardrop," which Grant instantly, um, granted.
This would prove to be the pattern for much of the rest of the night. For the most part, Grant took up the requests quickly and cheerfully, interspersing his goofy, charming banter between songs. Fortunately, the audience seemed familiar with a fair amount of his catalog. I think the only album not represented was Mobilize, and Grant himself came up with the sole Copperopolis selection, "Even the Oxen."
I shouldn't have been surprised that the gloriously underrated Mighty Joe Moon got the best showing, but for some reason, I was surprised to find how much the songs from Fuzzy moved me, even if we didn't hear my favorite "Stars 'n' Stripes."
Later, Grant revisited nineteeneighties for at least a couple more songs, though he stopped himself early in on "So. Central Rain," claiming that playing it with Peter Buck (who knew the correct chords) earlier that week messed up his interpretation. The old school fans probably also recognized a Grant Lee Buffalo favorite, "For the Turnstiles," even if it was from the wrong decade.
Cafe du Nord can be notoriously cruel to the typical singer/songwriter, and the club's chatter can often drown out sensitive, delicate material. It was a testament to the audience's affection for Grant and a triumph for the man himself that he could call attention to the only sound beside his voice to be heard in the room at one point: the air conditioning whooshing through the pipes. This was especially sweet, as his parents, siblings, and cousins were present, and toward the end of the night, he dedicated "Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary" to them.
The only thing I missed during the show was Grant's trusty 12-string. Combined with a certain combination of effects pedals, that guitar in Grant's hands could take on an army of axes.
Paul Durham, formerly of Black Lab, opened the show. I want to say I remember his band, but I soon realized I was mixing them up with other "black" bands from the last decade or so (Black 47, Black Heart Procession). He had a good voice and extremely earnest songs--the standard markings of a singer/songwriter--but his low-key and fairly solemn stage manner would later stand in marked contrast to Grant's high spirits and comedic tone.
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