Grandaddy in Vicar Street, Dublin, on Thursday 18th August 2016
Sometime round ’66 or ’67 Pete Townshend gave a filmed interview where he pontificates – with all the arrogance of youth and the stony belief that your band wipes the stage with your peers – that what you really need to win over a crowd is power and volume. He was being flippant, of course, again the arrogance of the man who has the songs to back up such a claim, but there’s a lot to be said for it…power and volume. It’s here tonight in spades, both of a Limerick origin and a Californian one, albeit with a more self-deprecating hue than Townshend could ever muster.
Grandaddy haven’t released a record since ‘The Fambly Cat’ in 2006, and the response to El Caminos In The West two songs into the set tells much of how sorely they’ve been missed. There’s been excitement in recent weeks since frontman Jason Lytle revealed a snap of a setlist with some unrecognisable titles, a hint of new material, and indeed he jokingly refers to the new songs in tonight’s set as Disasters #1 and #2. As #2 ends, Lytle shrugs, almost relieved – “it wasn’t so bad.” While Check Injin fucks with momentum and tempo, a satisfyingly grunge-y beast at heart, Way We Won’t just seems less successful. Unfamiliarity has a lot to answer for, certainly, but the latter doesn’t possess the immediacy of its predecessor – not like Windings’ new ones did earlier.
The Limerick quintet – with a new album imminent in ‘Be Honest And Fear Not’ – are no strangers to an aural assault, and Boring is a more punked-up attack than You’re Dead, despite the considerable heft in the clang of the latter’s chords and keys. Frontman Steve Ryan seems like he’s forgotten the riff to This Is A Conversation, but he’s back on track to deliver the all-conquering mid-song power chords. “I played that badly” he concedes, before they take things back to their first album with The Old Days. Held alongside their more recent material, it’s testament to the progression of Windings from a time when they were less-Windings/more-Dinosaur Jr, still forging their sound. That axis has tilted in their favour.
Tonight is the headliner’s first show proper after a previous low-key hometown outing. “Lemme know later what it’s like being a bunch of guinea pigs,” Lytle smiles, embarking on a theatrical, quietly epic Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer. “Let the practise continue” he announces midway through the selection as Disconnecty slots into place, and if the band consider it a rough’n’ready set it’s barely perceptible out front.
The chiming keys in the mid-section of Hewlett’s Daughter seem almost iconic at this point in time, sixteen years on from ‘The Sophtware Slump’, sitting in the folds of Aaron Burtch’s thunder of drum fills, and likewise the wondrous, cascading keys of The Crystal Lake – an everlasting presence. When the band crashes in on those well-worn cues, it’s with sheer force. The intro to Jed’s Other Poem sounds klaxon-like, that two-note motif marching ever-onward over Lytle’s croon. Tim Dryden almost steals the night away, his keys the overarching sound throughout the set. “We’re gonna pack three songs into one song” Lytle informs us before He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot, “…or die trying,” offering an “Are you ready?” teaser in the pregnant pause before the song proper kicks in. This time the power isn’t in the volume, but in the emotional punch – the piano keys, the words and the voices.
Grandaddy don’t need to use overdrive and distortion, or rely on power and volume. They don’t need to, but they know as well as anyone how effective it is. In all the hurt and elation, and the poignancy and exhilaration in their songs, Grandaddy have found that perfect balance – beauty and fragility, power and volume.