Tuesday August 8, 2006 - An evening with Grant Lee Phillips - Iota Club & Cafe, Arlington, VA $15
Grant Lee Phillips used to have this band called Grant Lee Buffalo. Had they remained intact, I could have posted another black and white photo, in this case, of Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) to continue the theme above; but they didn't so I won't. I used to listen to a little Grant Lee Buffalo back in my days as the man on the mic at WHRW (The Harpur Radio Workshop). It was decent alternative music back when that meant something, and it had a nice calming quality that nicely cut the rage of the industrial and grunge sound of the day. Should I mention that in 1995, Rolling Stone magazine voted GLP the best male vocalist of the year? No? Too late.
Fast forward 10 years, and Grant Lee Buffalo is now Grant Lee Phillips and is playing at clubs smaller than the ones he probably envisioned after opening up for acts like R.E.M. back in the 90s. But that's what you get without the Buffalo. Fewer people can fit in smaller places. And as GLP said himself on Tuesday, "more money to split fewer ways." So when looking into bands for this week, I chose to go with a more known quantity, and someone you could count on to have had enough experience to put on a decent show. The upside, we didn't suffer through a no talent night. The down side of this strategy, if you call it one, was that this was not going to be an opportunity to discover the next big thing. GLP's star is not necessarily on the rise.
How was the show?
The three-fourths of Rock Club present for this show had met out back for a drink and missed the very beginning of the first song. But GLP had taken stage to a capacity crowd at Iota, accoustic guitar in hand and accompanied by a lone drummer, and began with songs from his latest release, Nineteeneighties, covers of songs from the 1980s. Admittedly, this show did not rock with a capital "R," as I counted 4 songs that were up-tempo enough to actually rock. We caught the end of his version of Under the Milkyway by the Church as we entered from the back. He continued with other covers of the Pixies, the Psychedelic Furs, and New Order, before reaching back to his GLB album, Mighty Joe Moon. The sound was solid, and his strong whisper singing style kept the moshing to a minimum. If you didn't like the first song he performed, it wasn't likely that you'd like much of what followed as Phillips has a consistent sound both instrumentally and vocally, and which rarely shifts out of 3rd gear.
There were a good number of old school fans that served him well during the course of the night. Phillips quickly started taking requests from the audience which I personally enjoy seeing. It suggests to me that the artist is working for me. However, Phillips quickly reminded the crowd that he was in fact "the decider," which amused the politically in-tune audience.
Grant Lee Phillips continued to work the crowd through the course of the night, making jokes, and deliberating over which requests were worthy of consideration.
After a while, I was the lone RC member in the audience. I contemplated recruiting new members since it was clear that my aged clubmates had run out of gas. Given the low-key nature of the music, I can't blame them. But I returned to the back patio to find Jimbromski and Sacklunch sucking down cigarettes like coca-cola. This was the sad end to the night.
Overall, this was a quality show in a good venue. If I had the option, I would do it over again, but I wouldn't buy Sacklunch that 2nd beer.