Grandaddy: in the groove and out of place at the Riv

By Whet Moser

The question of the night for Grandaddy’s show was: what’s Grandaddy doing opening for Pete Yorn? My companions and I eagerly debated this on the way to the concert, and on the way back as well, since it didn’t appear that they had any more of a clue than we did.

Rooney, which features Jason Schwartzman’s younger brother and members that look charmingly like baby Strokes, opened the Chicago stop on the Pete Yorn Day I Forgot AT&T Deregulation Cell Phone Tour. From their last song, it appeared they do respectable power pop. They’re young yet, although it’s unclear whether or not the world needs a JV Phantom Planet.

Grandaddy then took the stage dressed like vagrants and launched into a good four or five minutes of unrecognizable drone. Frontman Jason Lytle took respites from sloppy repeated chords to drink from a beer that looked like it was a vintage Schlitz. V2 may have some special deal with beer collectors that they’ve got set up special for Grandaddy; it would be unsurprising, given their ’70s-Upper-Midwestern-alcoholic-ice-fisherman aesthetic. It was a curious opening gambit–hell of a time to tune up. Or maybe they were drunk. Or maybe they could care less. And from Lytle’s first moment of between-song patter, it was clear they’d chosen tactic number three. “This is the Windy City, right?”

These first few minutes were spent setting up an antagonistic artist-audience relationship. And it’s hard to blame them. If the Chicago audience suggests anything about the status of Grandaddy’s place in this tour, it’s that Pete Yorn fans are less interested in Grandaddy than vice versa. Ninety percent of the audience was engaged in conversation or beer-buying during their brief set (beginning at about 7:30; Pete Yorn fans need their beauty sleep). There were a lot of people with highlights. Lytle summed it up when he announced their identity: “We’re Grandaddy, the red-headed stepchild.”

Somewhat remarkably, they followed their self-deprecation and guitar irritation with an outstanding run through their new album, Sumday, with a couple of detours into their old work. Most were straight interpretations; “So You’ll Aim Towards the Sky,” the last song off of The Sophtware Slump, was the true opening to their set, done gracefully but without a great deal of flourish. “Yeah Is What We Had,” “I’m On Standby,” and Under the Western Freeway’s “AM 180” started the transition from complete ambivalence to shrugging competence to impressive musicianship.

By the time they reached the first single from Sumday, “Now It’s On,” they’d found their groove. With a more muscular rhythm section than on the recorded version, the big guitar-driven chorus took on more punch as Lytle’s pretty, fragile voice rose above it. “Lost on Yer Merry Way,” which is a bit too precious on Sumday–“this is a song about having a girlfriend and then not having a girlfriend,” as Lytle described it–benefited by replacing the album’s strings with bolder guitar. This was classic Grandaddy, rock weight that doesn’t break Lytle’s gentle voice, but no one seemed to care. Each song got the same polite response from the crowd, a smattering of applause mixed with the occasional pro forma shout.

Grandaddy hit the bricks a little after eight, and some guy took the stage to say something platitudinous and gracious about them and to announce that some lucky winners would get autographed CDs from Yorn and some other stuff. These were presumably from the lot who bought AT&T cell phones for an opportunity to meet their hero. Had Sony offered up ham radios for the Grandaddy set, maybe the response would have been more welcoming. As it was, one of our party was accosted by a security guard on the way out. “What do you think you’re doing?” Leaving, actually. It was our turn for ambivalence.