I missed Grant-Lee Phillips's gig in San Francisco--that city where I live--a couple of weeks ago. So much for supporting touring musicians. But on the other hand, once you go Largo, you might as well issue an embargo...on other venues. (Groan.) Errrr, I'll leave the pithy catchphrases to those who know how to craft them and stick with overlong concert narrations instead. See below.
Grant-Lee Phillips and Friends, Largo at the Coronet, June 28, 2008: These days, I'm always on the lookout for shows to append to my Friday night plans, but once upon a time, you were more likely to find me at Largo on Saturdays to take in the gorgeous vocal (and 12-string) stylings of Grant-Lee Phillips. However, I've droned on far too often about my Largo Journey of Discovery, so let's skip the history lecture.
Anyhoo, with that pattern established, is it any wonder that my Largo at Coronet plans would soon be augmented with other shows? Of course not! Look out, Little Room! (Eventually.)
Opening for Grant was a clutch of Largo regulars: Sara and Sean Watkins, Luke Bolla, and Greg Leisz. They tried out old and new songs, and announced an as-yet unnamed new project they were working on with four other musicians, many of them staples of the Largo stage and luminaries in their own right. A few of the tunes had a stronger bluegrass feel than the more straightforward folk songs they seem to favor at Largo, but considering there were two fiddles and one pedal steel present, you had to expect as much.
Once they dispersed, it was time for the headliner. As a solo artist, Grant has enjoyed a good deal of freedom, sometimes performing entirely on his own, other times with backing players. In the new room, it made sense to have support, and lending their talents to Grant's songs tonight were Jamie Edwards, more often seen accompanying Aimee Mann on piano, and a few songs in, Eric Gorfain of the Section Quartet as well. Together, they formed yet another of Largo's one-night-only trios, in a configuration that was new to me, a longtime Grant watcher.
This very un-rock trio took on Grant's catalog, from the folksy to the glam to the rocking, emphasizing the soul in Grant's already emotive songs. Grant initially led the way, but he quickly opened up the floor to audience requests. I usually come to Largo with a request in mind, and Grant makes it especially easy, as I have several strong preferences and sentimental favorites among his recordings. Thus, I got in the first suggestion for "Stars 'n' Stripes," my most beloved Grant Lee Buffalo song. Ordinarily, I wouldn't delve so deep into the catalog early on, but Grant himself had broken out a few gems from Fuzzy anyway, including the eponymous track and "The Hook." My desert-island disc Mighty Joe Moon got a helluva workout too, but the audience also called for tons of solo selections, such as "Heavenly" and "Fountain of Youth," both of which Grant took up.
I was particularly interested in seeing how Jamie would fare under these conditions. I love Aimee Mann's music, but her live show, even at Largo, isn't known for its spontaneity; in comparison, Grant's impromptu approach could be daunting. No sweat, apparently--though he consulted a loose-leaf notebook filled with sheet music for much of the show, Jamie also freestyled from time to time, especially on the unplanned audience requests. I wish I could remember on which song Grant subtly encouraged him to stretch out--I'm pretty sure it was an older title--but Jamie obliged, gracing the tune with a light, charming stroke.
Eric was less of a question mark, as anyone who knows his work with the Section Quartet can tell you. Also, there's the matter of his having guested on a couple of Grant's albums and his long association with several of Largo's best-known talents. Eric's spotlight blazed during "The Shining Hour," when Sara and Luke reappeared. Each violinist turned in a distinctive solo spin on the old Grant Lee Buffalo song, but I can assure you that Eric's interpretation was the most rawk of the three.
When Largo's move to the Coronet was announced, we show-goers fretted about procedures, prices, general ambiance, and a million more details. Frankly, it never occurred to me that the artists too would have to plan accordingly. My guess is that Grant had taken it into consideration.
Of course, he started by bringing on Jamie and Eric, who were later joined by Greg Leisz, then Bill Bonk from GLB's later years, and eventually Sara and Luke, as mentioned above. Sean Watkins hopped on toward the end too, and fashionably late, Benmont Tench was the final guest, arriving in time for a couple of songs. This nine-piece hootenanny launched into Grant's own "Truly Truly," then closed it out with the traditional stomper "Hop High My Lulu Girl." Though I've seen Grant as part of some major supergroups at Largo, his own shows have usually been mellower affairs, so it was great to see him tap some of the talent that the Largo family has to offer--certainly he's been there for many of them as well.
» a change might be a thing to try
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» it's not going to stop