My road trips for concerts have become a lot more infrequent the last few years compared to what they used to be, but for certain artists there are exceptions. When Jason Lytle did a small solo tour behind Grandaddy's farewell album, "Just Like The Fambly Cat", I made the drive to Chicago to see his two shows at Schuba's with Rusty Miller as they were the closest to Detroit. Having seen Grandaddy only twice in concert, it was a show I didn't want to miss and I'm certainly glad we went.
Now Lytle is back, touring behind his first solo record, "Yours Truly, the Commuter", and the same scenario presented itself. Yes, he is coming to the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac July 22nd, and I will be there, but he is opening for Neko Case so it will be a shortened set. I was also considering making the drive up to Grand Rapids, Michigan to see him open for Case there, but when he started adding a handful of headlining shows throughout this tour, I decided I had to do my best to catch one.
That opportunity presented itself as Jason played a headline show at The Basement in Columbus, Ohio. With plenty of vacation time to spare, figured I'd start the long weekend with a four hour trek to see Lytle. Just a slightly longer drive than to Grand Rapids, plus there was the bonus of the longer set since he was headlining the show. Although Jason has started to hint in recent interviews that some of the issues that made him hate touring with Grandaddy are popping up again, none of that seemed apparent last night as he and his band were in fine form and delivered a fantastic set.
Opening the night were Columbus band Wing and Tusk. I discovered Grandaddy when they opened for Coldplay in Detroit, so since then I've always paid close attention to the openers when I go to a show. Wing and Tusk join the list of opening bands I became an instant fan of. Their beautifully melodic folk-rock went over well with the people in attendance and had me hoping for a CD to buy but alas, their first release, "The Secret Of Toadflax Tea", won't be out until August 14th. This is much more than a proper album though, it's a story that apparently will also have a silent animated film to match it, to be shown during future live performances. Lead singer/guitarist Joshua Rea's vocals somewhat reminded me of My Morning Jacket's Jim James, very intriguing voice and a very talented band. If I can get my hands on a copy of "Toadflax" (sounds like it will only be sold in Columbus for the time being), look for a review here. Hopefully some Michigan dates are in their future, a very exciting band to keep an eye on. You can sample a few of their tracks at their MySpace as well as find more information at their official website.
After an intermission it was time for the main event. Jason Lytle and his band, Rusty Miller on guitars and keyboards, Rob Murdock on bass and ex-Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch, took to the stage at 9:48 for an amazing set which featured plenty of Grandaddy favorites and rarer tracks as well as a nice selection from "Commuter".
They kicked it off with "Chartsengrafs" from Grandaddy's "The Sophtware Slump", and immediately the crowd was into it. As much as I enjoyed the smaller acoustic shows Lytle had been doing, there is no substitute to hearing full band versions of these songs. And to have Burtch's steady hand behind the drum kit is such a thrill for Grandaddy fans to see and hear again. One of "Commuter's" highlights, "Ghost of My Old Dog" was next followed by clearly one of Lytle's favorite Grandaddy tracks, the classic "Levitz."
"Yours Truly, the Commuter" followed, then Lytle took some time to introduce his latest addition to the stage set-up, the box of wine on the amp which he headed to for a re-fill. This may be the first time I've ever seen an audience applaud a box of wine, a hilarious moment for sure. "Brand New Sun" from the new album was next before they went into a run of five Grandaddy tracks. After declaring he doesn't normally take requests because he's not a monkey, Lytle started on a wonderful version of the apparently requested "Saddest Vacant Lot In All The World" solo on the keyboard before the rest of the band joined in, as on the "Sumday" version. The B-side "What Can't Be Erased" was simply stunning in a re-worked, almost countri-fied version. Lytle even remarked how happy he was with how it turned out at the end. Definitely a highlight of the evening.
After the two ballads, they got the crowd dancing with the "Sumday" fan favorite "Stray Dog And The Chocolate Shake" with Miller playing the trademark keyboard part and Lytle to his side on guitar. The "Sumday"-era B-side "Derek Spears" was next with Murdock and Miller leaving the stage for a performance by Lytle and Burtch. The Grandaddy run ended with another of their great B-sides, "Our Dying Brains", before they slowed it down again with Lytle at the keyboard for the new "I Am Lost (And The Moment Cannot Last)".
They returned to "The Sophtware Slump" for a gorgeous version of "Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)" with an extended instrumental portion that could have gone on all night with its transfixing beauty. The band locked into a groove that had numerous people around me swaying with their eyes closed, lost in the beautiful music coming from the stage. It was back to the new album for "This Song Is The Mute Button" before they closed the main set with the Grandaddy classic "AM 180". Miller pulled out a small Casio keyboard for the song's signature keyboard line and fumbled it a bit at first resulting in a hilarious moment where Lytle pretended to reverse the entire beginning for a "do-over". They nailed it the second time, with the whole place dancing and singing along to the band's best known track.
The main set ended at 10:55 and after a couple minutes (and the Casio demo of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" playing over the PA) the band returned. We had a Casio keyboard growing up with that same demo on it, to hear something we must have jokingly played a thousand times over a loud speaker system was quite hysterical. Lytle closed the show with another of the highlights of "Yours Truly" as the encore, "Rollin' Home Alone".
That ended things at 11:04 after about 75 minutes of great music. Obviously I imagine about 30 minutes will be shed off his opening sets for Neko Case, so this trip was worth every second and every penny for the opportunity to see a full show and to come across a great new band as well is always a bonus. Hopefully, Lytle's issues with touring will not prevent him from doing this again in the future, as he and his band never fail to put on an excellent show.