“We’re going to stand here for 20 minutes and figure out what’s wrong with my guitar,” Jason Lytle jokes a minute after he’s arrived on stage and stared at his instrument in bemusement. “We run a tight ship here.”
This lone technical mishap aside, tight is an apt description for Grandaddy. The reunited Modesto rockers are touring behind their new record Last Place, their first effort in eleven years; and at Leeds’s Irish Centre, they deliver a cerebral live masterclass that affirms their positions as indie grandmasters of a generation.
Backed by a video screen rotating between scenic vistas and atmospheric footage of industrialisation, Lytle and company tap up all five of their records to date, for a career-spanning set. New track Way We Won’t is a slice of driving electronic rock; Evermore is all staccato synthpop with a ubiquitously cosmic outro. Over a decade on from Just Like the Fambly Cat, Last Place feels like a natural sonic progression, retaining the bittersweet whimsicality that defined Grandaddy’s first incarnation – and the Beatlesque swell of I Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore and dreamy psych of The Boat is in the Barn are rendered exquisitely on stage, with character and tonal precision.
It’s how well the older material has aged that seals their reputation though. From the rumbling autumnal timbres of Hewlett’s Daughter to the brooding chiptune electronica of The Crystal Lake, Grandaddy’s blend of analogue synths, opulent orchestrations and noisy guitar remains an intoxicating combination, with Lytle’s voice unravaged by the passage of time. He may cut an unassuming figure under his perennial red forage cap as always but his high half-murmur induces shivers on the hymnal My Small Love, and the ethereal Underneath the Whispering Willow, his whispered words are freighted with a naked pathos lacking in many of today’s indie stalwarts.
A respectful crowd reception grows warmer for the final third of the show as the band deploy some of their signature songs; the retro-video-game-indebted hook of A.M. 180, the power pop of Now It’s On, the barnstorming new wave closer of Summer Here Kids. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the Jeff Lynne style-sweep of He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot, delivered in all its prog-concerto glory, that gets the loudest response.
A quarter of a century into their storied career, Grandaddy are peerless in live performance; undisputed godfathers of lush, brawny space rock served with an intimate touch.