When all the post-gig chat you hear, walking back to the station, is about the venue’s air-conditioning, that gig was very, very hot or very, very dull.
But Jason Lytle has other things on his mind tonight – the sound he’s hearing in his monitors, for one. “I’m begging, just a little more vocal,” he pleads with the engineer early on. “It’s hard for me to get into it.” He needn’t have worried. As the audience try to tell him at points, Grandaddy sound wonderful out here – in the tiny, sweat-soaked upstairs room of a converted railway building.
They open with Hewlett’s Daughter, from the band’s masterpiece The Sophtware Slump (2000). Immediately, it’s like the last sixteen years – or the four since the band’s last London appearance – never happened, with Lytle’s voice in particular having lost none of its cracked, fragile power.
It’s a very different world, but that album’s seething Y2K techno-angst and environmental concern still strike a chord, and the selections from …Slump – an ecstatically-received The Crystal Lake, the grandiose, melancholic So You’ll Aim Toward The Sky – go down best, even among a set where everything seems like the song everyone hoped to hear.
Dedicated to the last, most are here thanks to a rainy Saturday morning queuing outside Rough Trade, their tickets coming with the bonus of a single, Way We Won’t, the band’s first new material since 2006’s apparent swansong, Just Like The Fambly Cat. It gets an airing tonight, along with another new song, Check Injin. Lytle’s typically self-effacing about the new tracks, saying they’ll “crush everybody’s dreams” and “kill the mood” – and, while not straying too far from the mould, both bode well for a new album.
Full of arpeggiated synth runs, and oddly Trevor Horn-esque orchestra stabs, Now It’s On is an electrically-charged highlight from the comparatively undervalued Sumday, along with Lost On Yer Merry Way, where weary melody and thunderous volume collide. It’s all lapped up by the audience, and when someone yells “Thank you for coming to London!”, there’s a solid minute or two of applause. “I don’t see a spot on the set list that says ‘sentimental wishy-washy'”, Lytle says in response. “But I’ll take that”.
It’s left to A.M. 180 – the closest the band ever came to a slacker anthem, complete here with comedy Dick Van Danny Dyer-isms (“and take on whatevva togevva”) – and, naturally, the stellar sprawl of He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot to close a superb set, neatly illustrating the leap they took from their 1997 debut album, Under The Western Freeway to …Slump; from faintly Weezer-ish lo-fi charm to nine minutes of swooning, proggy millennial ennui. The encore plays the same trick in reverse, with spaced rarity Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer leading to a joyous thrash through Summer Here Kids.
Frazzled but rapt, perhaps it’s not too hard to see why this crowd found it so hard to find the right words. It was, after all, bloody hot.