Better than…drinking $8 Pabsts at home.
Up until the last week, the Grandaddy quintet had not performed on stage together in six years. How many bands have come and gone since that time? How many bands will form and break-up before Grandaddy returns to Los Angeles after last night? Based on the crowd of hardcore devotees, few were willing to wait to again hear Jason Lytle and his band of Central Valley thumpers.
The evening opened with a 40 minute set from local rockers Earlimart. The four-piece, stretched out shoulder-to-shoulder across the stage, trading instruments and riffs in front of a monochrome projector screen. Their set was loose and rocking until they closed with a ballad. Lead singer Aaron Espinoza promised to vacate the stage so he could make way for Grandaddy.
A half an hour later Grandaddy entered fully embracing the reunion idea. The “Welcome Back Kotter” theme was slowly disemboweled over the PA as the Grandaddy logo, a riff on John Deere, fluttered on the backdrop. The projector was the sixth member of the band during the show, providing images of van accidents, cats fighting dogs and dystopian landscapes. The band approached the stage to cheers from the crowd and launched into “El Caminos in the West,” their poppiest offering of the night.
The band looked little changed from their last jaunt together. Aaron Burtch, the burly beat-keeper, glued his beard on for the tour while Jim Fairchild offered the closest thing to guitar pyrotechnics, swinging his right arm and often singing away from his microphone. Keyboardist Tim Dryden hung in the back while bassist Kevin Garcia seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, taking as many pictures from the stage as audience members were taking of him.
Lytle, dressed in an “Over the Hill” t-shirt, was playful throughout the night, trading jokes with folks in the audience. His jab at the “dudes” in the crowd was followed by a goofy British and German impression. “I'm not that unrefined,” he claimed. “I have a passport.”
“Crystal Lake” was performed in a chunkier manner than the original on the band's 2000 album Sophtware Slump. Fairchild laid hard into the tune, making for the biggest sing-along of the night. “Chartsengrafs,” from the same album, also got a heavier bend to it, with Burtch flipping his hat for maximum flexibility. His unbelievable sense of time is an unwavering anchor for the band.
The pummeling “AM 180,” Grandaddy's most beloved tune across the pond, ripped the 8-bit keyboard part to shreds, providing unadulterated rock for the otherwise motionless crowd. They closed out the night with a shimmering rendition of “He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot.” In the breaths between parts of the song, the audience was completely silent, listening intently. As the band built to a floor-shaking assault, the crowd cheered over Lytle's droning synths.
Although they didn't hint at any new material in the works or why they had decided to re-form, it was just nice to hear them play the old jams again. When the band splintered following their break-up, it seemed unlikely that they would tour anymore. Their time together was a bit of a cautionary tale: Lytle's songs of technological decay and the Vonnegut-like interaction with “broken household appliances” never got their due in the US and were buried by poorly managed finances. Hopefully this return to this stage will turn out a little better for everyone.
The Crowd: Lots of plaid and trucker hats that folks probably dug out of their closets from the last time Grandaddy made the rounds.
Personal Bias: I once saw Grandaddy play in Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Sacramento over three consecutive nights.
Random Notebook Dump: The bathroom attendant had a little radio that was playing Guns N Roses and Pink Floyd. He seemed to be enjoying himself. You've got to do something to entertain yourself between stopping people from smoking dope or carving their names in the toilet seats.