Bumbershoot Music Lounge 2011, Monday: Grant Lee Buffalo

photos by Dave Lichterman

This is the only United States appearance the reunited Grant Lee Buffalo are doing apart from the Los Angeles shows they performed in May (reported to be mind-blowing by Seattle-based NPR scribe and 1 Reel’s Barbara Mitchell, who flew down to catch the shows personally last spring). People who wonder about the spirit of Neil Young and the most adored and influential 90s underground music have their questions answered beyond the grime-smear of grunge in the wonderfully gnarly and soulful roots of this band’s four albums, Fuzzy, Mighty Joe Moon, Copperopolis, and Jubilee (all recorded between 1993 and 1998). The hit song “Truly, Truly” (off Jubilee) might remind you to pick up a copy of their 2001 Storm Hymnal collection (made up of unreleased odds and crowd favorite evens). GLB were never afraid to be topical, leader Grant-Lee Phillips not-quite-cracking voice expressing bourbon sadness and bittersweet memories at the center of either frenzied bursts of diamond chiming folk or razor sharp working class rock. They are fired-up Americana-friendly favorites who do not grate with needless traditionalism or too-light weariness.

Grant and company didn’t mince words when their time came to close out the Bumbershoot Music Lounge, lurching right into a stormy rendition of “Shining Hour,” which swirled and stumbled until it fell to an explosive conclusion. It’s hard to believe that such a massive sound could come from three musicians, but Grant Lee Buffalo gels with indomitable power. Scruffy and disheveled (like all great rock stars), Phillips’ vocals soared, complete with a hint of twang. Bassist Paul Kimble tore through his strings like a lumberjack cleaving redwoods, while drummer Joey Peters seemed almost tribal in his percussive element. Between the killer tunes and the witty onstage banter, the crowd couldn’t decide whether or not to cheer or bust up laughing. Among the quips were calls for Josh Grobin and playful lamentations for their scheduling during the set time of legendary duo Hall & Oates. But by the time audience favorite “Fuzzy” came around, the overwhelming roar of approval made it clear who this crowd was going to go see later in the night.

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