As soon as I heard Admiral Radley (aka Earlimart and two key members of Grandaddy) would be touring behind their debut release "I Heart California", I made plans for a road trip of some kind. I wasn't counting on a Michigan stop, but figured they'd hit a state close enough to travel to. There was no way I was missing this once in a lifetime chance to see two of my favorite bands combined into a new favorite band. So as soon as the Chicago date (originally slated to be at Lincoln Hall but moved to it's sister venue, Schuba's Tavern) was announced, tickets were bought and the travel plan was put together.
I'll be honest, I absolutely abhor the traffic in Chicago. More than once I've traveled there and sworn I will never return, only to have another "must see" band schedule a show there as the closest stop on their tour. I last made the trek to Chicago for another Grandaddy-related show, Jason Lytle's solo tour behind their last album "Just Like The Fambly Cat", which also took place at Schuba's. I was glad to see the AdRad show moved here, as it is a fantastic, and intimate, venue.
When we got inside Schuba's (after battling the downpour outside) there was a short wait before the doors were opened to the area where the concerts are held. Immediately, I noticed I didn't see any of AdRad's gear and remembered they had already experienced problems with "Vanna White", their white Econoline van, earlier on the tour. Sure enough, my brother checked Twitter on his phone and the band had posted the van broke down (complete with picture of it on a tow truck), but they were going to make it to Chicago one way or another. Right around 10PM, the side door right by where we were sitting popped open, in walked drummer Aaron Burtch with some equipment, and the rest of the band started making their way in, unloading their gear.
After all of Admiral Radley's equipment was in the building, opening act Hooray For Earth took to the stage. The New York based four piece got a decent response to their noisy, guitar and synth heavy version of pop/rock music. Although nothing that blew me away, their musicianship was strong, particularly impressive was drummer Joseph Ciampini.
It was then time for AdRad to set up and, with the late arrival, the band would be performing this night without a proper soundcheck. Ariana Murray was stage left on keyboards and bass, Aaron Espinoza was center stage on guitar, bass and triggering loops and samples and Jason Lytle was to the right in front of his AdRad decorated keyboard, and also on guitar. Aaron Burtch was at the back on the drums behind Espinoza. Once everything was set up and they had tested their instruments, Espinoza thanked everyone for coming out and waiting and the show was ready to begin.
Things kicked off with the Espinoza-led dreamy pop of "Ghosts Of Syllables". This was the only performance that showed the signs of a lack of soundcheck as bursts of loud feedback marred the early part of the song. But adjustments were made and the night was flawless from there. With Espinoza, Lytle and Murray all handling vocals on the album, the setlist was broken out in a way to alternate the lead vocals around the stage, so it truly stayed a "band" concert, not too heavy on any one singer.
The title track to their album "I Heart California", featuring Lytle on lead vocals, was up second before the first of many funny moments of banter from the stage. Espinoza and Lytle recapped their van troubles earlier in the day, culminating with a breakdown in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Espinoza asked if anyone in the audience was from Wisconsin and when someone shouted he replied jokingly, "Baldwin, Wisconsin. What a shit hole." The two then explained what they deemed was a 'racket', with the bar they ended up hanging out and getting drunk in being right next to the repair shop. They knew they were at the mercy of the mechanics and likely overpaid for the repairs. This was just the first of many funny moments from the stage. Some bands could have been in a rotten mood after a day like they had, but the members of Admiral Radley couldn't have been in better moods and that vibe took over the whole room.
Lytle's lovely "GNDN" was next before Espinoza took the lead back over for "Ending Of Me", but not before he poked fun at his choice of shirt for the show, saying he had to reach way back into his wardrobe for this one. Much like on the album, the lone track that features Ariana Murray on lead vocals was a highlight. "The Thread" came across as beautiful live as it is on the CD.
The Lytle rocker "Sunburn Kids" was the high energy point of the night though, and you had to expect it what with the song's "Burning In Chicago" line. The whole crowd was chanting along "We Burn!" during the breakdown and afterwards, Lytle joked the song only works live when they play it in one of the cities mentioned in the lyrics. He then laughed about how he loved to get to go 'all Metallica" in the song with the hard charging guitar lines. It is indeed nice to hear him doing some of the harder rock stuff that harkens back to early Grandaddy days again.
Things mellowed out a bit after that with Espinoza back on the lead for the country tinged acoustics of "Lonesome Co." and "Chingas In The West". It was then Jason Lytle in the spotlight the rest of the evening. They closed out the main set with a stunningly gorgeous take of his "I Left U Cuz I Luft U" that topped the recorded version with an extended outro and more live drums than on the CD.
With it being such an intimate venue, Espinoza asked the crowd to pretend the band is leaving the stage and make as much noise as possible to "bring them back" for an encore, even though they weren't getting offstage. After that lighthearted moment, they surprised me with a performance of "Everytime I'm With You", one of the tracks Lytle did vocals for on the Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse collaboration album "Dark Night Of The Soul". This was the only non-Admiral Radley song of the night and it came across great live, a pleasant surprise. AdRad then closed out the night on a rocking note with Lytle's ode to the skateboarding days of his youth, "Red Curbs".
My original hopes for an Admiral Radley tour were that the band would mix in select Earlimart and Grandaddy songs with the AdRad material, maybe some of their personal favorites of each others. They did mention in a few interviews they kicked that idea around, but after seeing this show I can understand why they want to keep that material separate. They played all but one track, "I'm All Fucked On Beer", from their debut and it made for a fantastic show. They clearly want the Admiral Radley material to stand on its own, and it surely does.
The vibe that comes across on the "I Heart California" album, that of a group of longtime friends and kindred musical spirits getting together and having a blast recording an album, definitely carried over into their live show. Touring with Grandaddy, and a lot of the behind the scenes record label BS, took it's toll on Lytle and burned him out. There were no signs of that on this night, the man has never looked happier or more refreshed. Not having to carry all the weight of leadership of a band certainly has to play a big part in it. I've only seen Earlimart once live, so I never really realized what a warm, hilarious stage presence Aaron Espinoza has either. As much fun as they were having, the musicianship was tight as can be, as is to be expected from these masters of pop melody and rock crunch from California. A truly memorable night and show.
- "Ghosts Of Syllables"
- "I Heart California"
- "Ending Of Me"
- "The Thread"
- "Sunburn Kids"
- "Lonesome Co."
- "Chingas In The West"
- "I Left U Cuz I Luft U"
- "Everytime I'm With You"
- "Red Curbs"