Wednesday, August 29, 2007

hidden hand

Going to a lot of shows tends to make me want to see more shows, even by artists I'm not stalking. Thus, it makes complete sense that in the midst of a sizable rock tourism jag, I'd try to shoehorn one or two more into the schedule. After all, Largo was a short drive up LaCienaga from LAX to Evonne's anyway--might as well stop in for Grant-Lee Phillips' show.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Largo, August 25, 2007: I'll skip the usual preamble about my longtime interest in Grant, except to say that the last show I attended left me a little disheartened. I'm usually the first person to say you should move on if an artist no longer interests you, but I realize that for music nerds such as myself, this medium and our associations with it can complicate matters. Quite simply, it makes me sad to think that maybe I can't get anything else from Grant's artistry, which led me down at least a few promising musical tracks through the ages.

Before that question could be answered, we were required to satisfy Largo's minimum order requirement, and we took the opportunity to gawk at Aimee Mann at the back of the room. We made out a couple of other familiar figures, though no one could decide if Michael Penn was with her; we eventually decided he wasn't.

One of the barflies turned out to be the night's opener: Paul F. Tompkins, whom I adore. He opened with a joke seemingly aimed directly at our table, pitting the residents of Los Angeles vs. those of San Francisco and New York. I can't comment on his characterization of New Yorkers, but he hit the nail on the head regarding the typical San Franciscan's disdain for our southern neighbors. Let it be known, though, that I may be the staunchest defender of the Southland that I know (as well I should, at this point).

He closed with his pie-vs.-cake debate, which I've heard before, but it's a question that deserves to be posed often. If I didn't hate typical comedy clubs so much, I'd see Paul's shows more often, but for now, I'll settle for occasional visits to Largo or the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

Time came for Grant to hit the stage, where he was joined by Paul Bryan and Jay Bellerose from his last touring incarnation. Their set comprised a fair sampling of much of Grant's work over the years, with a slight emphasis on Strangelet, the most recent release. For example, we heard "Fountain of Youth" featuring Jamie from Aimee's band on piano, and on "Calamity Jane," Grant wrung out a gorgeous sustain on electric guitar that I don't remember in the original version.

We also got a batch of wonderful Grant Lee Buffalo tunes, some by request ("Jupiter and Teardrop"), while others came more spontaneously. The aforementioned Jamie stuck around for "Truly Truly," but Grant took the lead on "Lady Godiva and Me" on electric guitar in a rendition and style that kept me guessing for longer than usual (I usually recognize the song immediately). Grant even turned out one new song that didn't yet have a title.

The showcase of the evening had to be the Grant-Paul F. Tompkins duet. Grant set the scene, asking for a summery vibe from Paul Bryan and reminiscing over the season's celebrations. He then called up Paul F. Tompkins, and the two revealed their tradition of getting together for Shark Week. Meanwhile, the beat had started to pick up behind them, and before we knew it, they were singing an original song about the Discovery Channel's popular series to the tune of "Mack the Knife." Grant and Paul dispensed all manner of shark facts and anecdotes, including mentions of hammerheads, "cartilaginous skeletons" (taken verbatim from the song!), and their multiple rows of teeth, while simultaneously outvamping the Rat Pack. If this reminds you in the least of their collaboration for Aimee Mann's Christmas show, you're on the right track.

Aimee, alas, remained in the shadows for the whole show and didn't grace the stage, which is somewhat understandable, given her recent three-night stand at the club. She hung out, however, to bolster her friends and colleagues.

The show definitely added at least a few more years to my Grant-Lee appreciation. Thanks, Largo, for reminding me of what he can deliver.

See also:
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» it's all in good spirits
» it's not going to stop

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