California's Grandaddy have spent the last few years sloping away from success. Where the beardy five-piece had previously hooked a cult following with their Casio-country psychedelia, their 2000 album, The Sophtware Slump, took them to a much wider audience. Maybe it was in the timing: Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips had broken big, everyone wanted another Deserter's Songs (Mercury Rev's breakthrough album), and Slump's warm soundscapes, presided over by the singer Jason Lytle's beatific coo, seemed about right. It was a great album in itself, though, with its vivid, wholly humane lyrical landscape of lonely robots, lost pilots and woodlands strewn with technological debris providing a wistful, wondrous metaphor for millennial and emotional fallout, set to a fractured musical backdrop of bleeps and symphonic space-rock.
But it brought them a level of fame that didn't sit well: hence the wait for its follow-up, Sumday, where songs about pushing ahead ("Now It's On") sit alongside cravings for downtime ("I'm On Standby") and bliss-out resignation ("I'm OK With My Decay"). It's a modest album, and the band don't so much take the stage as apologetically borrow it at the Astoria. They're sleepier than on the Slump tour, and the set opener, a lolloping "Hewlett's Daughter", sets a lazy summer evening tone. The five men in worker's caps might as well be sitting on a porch, glugging beer, as playing in a band.
But with waves of easy warmth flooding from the stage, it's tough not to love them. "Yeah Is What We Had" is a big, hairy bear-hug of a song, reflecting on an old romance with a nice mix of humble cliché and forlorn detail ("Now I walk alone through howling winds/ Fast food bags wrapped 'round my shins"). On the screen behind the band, a sad-eyed dog stares out. Likewise, "I'm On Standby" is lovably cowed and chugging, couching a retreat from the front line in the metaphor of a worker robot being "powered down for redesign".
Where previously Grandaddy were grandly conceptual, these Sumday songs see the band slowing down to look for wonderment in tiny details and workaday routine. It's great stuff, but if they are feeling uncertain in their calling, the faintly awkward, disjointed set reflects it.
As "Summer Here Kids" and "The Crystal Lake" - singalong pop songs of slacker disappointment and rural longing - fall by the wayside, it's clear that the band aren't quite hitting their stride. The tumbling blip-pop of "AM 180" fares better, but it's left to the sole encore of "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot", Slump's empathic anthem to turn-of-the-century misdirection, to provide a genuine moment of interaction between the crowd and the band.
A likeable gig, then, but they can do better. Perhaps they're just worried about where that will get them.Reuse content