I finally have a bit of time to write up these shows. I've been thinking about it, and I think the best approach for me is to kind of ramble in a Thompson-esque way about the two shows together. Kind of like high school: 'compare and contrast...' A prelude: Dublin was gripped by a fever. The Queen visited Dublin for a few days. It was going to go poorly, or amazingly, and as a country where some of the natives still have issues with the history of the nations, it could have gone either way. The Queen was due to drive right by our apartment door, although the coppers wouldn't tell me when. Darcy and I did get to see her drive by, waving as she went. The visit went stunningly well. She treated the fallen Irish with respect at the Garden of Remembrance, and carried herself with grace and gravitas. For me, the day was adrenaline-fuelled from the time I rose in the morning, until I finally got to sleep.
Both shows were good, but Dublin was far superior. And I mean FAR superior. The band played hard, heavy and with a totally unexpected intensity. In short, it was ferocious. I've described Vicar St before, and what a wonderful venue it is, but here it is again, as I believe it is a contributing factor. The gig was originally fully open: a GA floor and seated balconies. The venue, in this format, has a capacity of 1200-1500. Harmonic, the promoter (and I know who owns Harmonic, and I'm going to ring him and find out why) did very little promotion. I saw one tiny print ad in Hot Press, an Irish music rag, and that was it. No billboards, no radio ads, nothing. I don't listen to the wireless, so perhaps the radio bit I've just written isn't fair. I'd told everyone I know who was going I was doing 'a fanboy' on Dublin ie. getting there early to get a good spot, and all the rest. A good spot for me, as a taper, is in front of one of the onstage PA speakers, however, even front row centre has superb sound in Vicar St. The room was originally designed for one reason, and one reason only, and that is concerts. So, the sound in the venue is superb anywhere except for one sour spot: underneath the balcony overhangs. The sound hits the front of the balconies and drops really flat when it travels under the balconies.
Our contingent (Darcy, myself, Ir and J) arrived at 7.30pm. The doors were open to the bar, but not the venue itself. We got pints and situated ourselves close to the venue doors. Darcy chatted to the door man, who told her he'd give her the nod just before he opened the doors. This is called preparation. The doors open and in we trotted. To our surprise, they had put the tables on the floor, which is not unusual in itself if the gig has been advertised like that, as the seats are numbered and you buy a numbered seat. The tables are little round tables, with 4 little stools at each one. We realized that due to lower sales, they decided on this format, but the tables were general admission tables. I considered getting one in front of the speaker house left (to the left of Grant) as I know how big Paul's bass sound is. At the last minute, I thought, 'fuck it' and we got front and centre. Joseph Peters was directly in front of me. I stretched my legs out, and they touched the stage. Vicar St has a big stage, but the band only used the middle third, with the wings basically empty except for Paul's Mac/keyboard setup, and beyond that, the monitor engineer. I won't talk about the support-it wasn't my cup of chai.
The band stroll out-no big intro tape to speak of-and it's full tilt from then on. Being jacked up, I was giving it all the devil horns and rock 'n' roll business I could, mainly directed at the Kimble and the Peters fellas. Paul Kimble is definitely the heart and soul of Grant Lee Buffalo, something which a lot of fans have yet to realise. There's a reason Grant's first solo album was acoustic solo, the second an electronic-rock hybrid, and his third a full-on folk album: he didn't want the Grant Lee Buffalo sound anymore. And guess who's a FUCKING BIG PART of that sound: yes, Mr. P. Kimble.
Our table went quietly (I was taping) apeshit all night, and Paul was pointing and winking at us-we just kept egging him on all night. I was pointing at Joey, trying to get a drumstick, but couldn't get him to comprehend what I was after. Grant sang his fucking heart out, the 12 string Takamine sounded beautiful, especially with the distortion, Joey Peters is a fucking metronome who kept time, added fills and smiled with pure joy the whole night. Kimble wore a baseball cap, and for such a big man, does a wonderful job of creating counterpoint harmonies, especially in songs like Mockingbirds and Fuzzy. His harmonies are perfect. A standout harmony, where Paul's voice dips and flies but always stays in key, and does it for so long, is the shining moment in Mighty Joe Moon. Absolutely flabbergasting. Where Grant can't hit a note, Paul's there to save his arse, and when Grant can hit it, Paul's there as a counterpoint and to make it bigger. Paul's bass sound was predictably huge, but he also does some creative and inventive slide parts on the bass (not using a slide, just his fingers), which was most noticeable during the intro and first verse of Soft Wolf Tread. Stars N' Stripes started with the beautiful clean sound of the 12 string Takamine, and when Paul's single note comes into the picture during the first verse, the song slowly builds up to the wonderful chorus: "string us along...got you in a handycam..." with the bass vanishing and then bouncing back in on "got you on a handycam"...sheer genius. One of the gig's highlights was the end of Mockingbirds, with Grant soloing, Paul taking over the lead vocal for a line of "Devastation at last..." and the band ending the song on the button. Brilliant.
Grant was his usual funny, charismatic self, stating that the Queen Elizabeth of England was stalking them, as they only do this every 15 years, and she was in Dublin, the lock down of the city centre making it an adventure getting the band to the venue. Paul is Grant's straight man; his Paul Schaffer to The Late Show's David Letterman, if you like. Grant travelled with two 12 string Takimine's, and Paul had 2 identical basses, although I'm not Paul used them both. I'm guessing that the second one was there in case he broke a string. Basses are fuckers to re-string, and if he broke a string without a back up bass, the momentum of any show would drastically suffer during the re-stringing of the instrument. Grant's soloing during the songs was bang-on, and the ebb and flow of the usual Grant Lee Buffalo songwriting dynamics were beautifully replicated and played with precision, heart, and plenty of passion.
The audience gave a standing ovation at the encore break, which is usual in Dublin, and when the band came back out, Grant told Joey: "get a picture of this", and Joey seemed to be videoing with his iPhone or the like. I was front and centre both hands up high, giving it the devil horns; I hope he sees it and smiles one day. Some of us stood for the first song of the encore "Homespun" but were told to sit after the song as people behind us couldn't see. I give credit to the security guy for telling us to stand BETWEEN songs and not DURING one. Some security people do have hearts. The whole band shone on Homespun: beautifully played drums, a driving, bouncy, twisting bassline, and distorted 12 string solo, and guitar in fine voice: basically a great summation of the Grant Lee Buffalo sound.
Lone Star Song is always a majestic, if predictable, set closer, and certainly does the job well. I was introduced by a friend in the 'biz' before the show to another fella, who gave me a setlist at the end of the show (thanks, mate!). A certain Mick from this board took a guess at who I was during the show, and approached me after, and we all went to Whelan's and got well hammered. Mick was at the table next to ours in Vicar St, and let our friend and music journalist John and his girlfriend sit at his table. John had balcony tickets, but of course the balconies ended up being closed, so John got to sit next to us. Thanks, Mick!. Darcy, Ir and J dragged me outta Whelan's at 2am as our flight to London was at 11.30am the next day. I was on such a high I'd have stayed in Whelan's and gone to London on no sleep if I had my way, but it was for the best...definitely for the best.
Setlist (exactly as it's printed. They didn't deviate from it. The *'s are for when Paul changes to keyboards):
Wish You Well
Jupiter and Teardrop
Demon Called Deception
Lady Godiva & Me
Soft Wolf Tread
Stars N' Stripes
Honey Don't think*
It's the Life
Mighty Joe Moon*
Lone Star Song
End of Part One. Part Two coming soon...
...So, onto London. Ir, J, Darcy and I got on the plane the next day. Feeling euphoric but exhausted, we didn't see how the band were going to top the gig the next day. We split to where we were all staying, and Darcy and I caught up with old friends. The Royal Festival Hall is located on the Thames, in a large complex called the Southbank Centre. It has lots of bars, restaurants, outdoor art exhibits and all sorts. After some good Japanese food in a very noisy restaurant, we headed in at 8.10, smack bang in the break between the support and the main act. We had no desire to see the support again. God bless that singer for trying, but songs are important, too.
We were row K (10th row) to the left of Paul Kimble. It was the best seats I could get. These shows were originally planned for January, and I couldn't attend them, as I was in Australia. Someone must have gotten a refund on these two seats, as they magically appeared one day when I checked online after the rescheduled date was announced, and I scooped them up. Ir and J were in row D (4th row) on the opposite side of the room. My London friends were on the balcony. The venue is a hell of a lot bigger than Vicar St, and is a more old-school conventional theatre, with rows of seats sloping upwards from the stage, a huge balcony at the rear, and very modern looking boxes instead of traditional balconies up on the side. The sound was cavernous (ie echoey) as these types of venues are traditionally built for orchestras, where echo assists in the dips and swells of tradtional classical music. Venues like this are not built for rock 'n' roll.
The band tried. Really, they did. They tried hard. But there was no way they were going to play as intensely as they did in Dublin. No band can play that hard two nights in a row. And they're not kids, either, let us not forget. Grant was charming, the band played solidly, but that was kind of IT. I've no doubt that if you only saw the London show, you may have thought it was amazing, but next to the life-changing experience of Dublin, this was lacklustre. The venue didn't help. This is not a phenomenon that only occurs to the Buffalo, of course. I've seen Pearl Jam some 56 times. Usually, out of every 3 or 4 shows in a row, they'll do 1 AMAZING show, and the other 2 or 3 will be solid. Pearl Jam, like Grant Lee Buffalo, don't seem to do bad shows though. They do jaw-dropping shows, or solid shows, but rarely if ever a bad one. I know this true for PJ; I'd like to think the same of the Buffalo.
A request from the house left boxes for Stars N' Stripes was granted, as it was next on the setlist, anyway, with Grant stating: "A request from the balcony. I can hear you. I look small to you. But I hear your, your needs". Someone from the same area requested APB, which, as a track from Jubilee (Paul Kimble doesn't play on that album) was never going to be played, I don't think.
Some funny pre-Bethlehem Steel banter between Paul and Grant, with Paul digging Grant inventing a new type of music: Industrial Soul. I don't ever wanna hear what that'd sound like.
At least the fucking merch turned up in London. The merch consisted of two t-shirts, one a cool brown one with a Native American riding a horse; the other a frankly uninspiring black t-shirt with the name of the band on it in some font I've never seen before. I did get one of each though. The black one will come in handy for taping shows, as the mic is black, too.
As a side note: I still cannot fathom the inclusion of Drag in the set. The band have vastly superior songs to this one. Dixie Drug Store? (I know, I know, Grant said in Dublin last year it had too many words). Two and Two? Arousing Thunder? Rock of fucking Ages? Much better songs. I just don't understand.
The band came on at 8.30pm in London, and finished at 10.15. Since it was so early, I really thought they may have played a second encore. Even one song. But it was not to be. After the show, we all found each other, sunk some booze, and headed off to our digs for the night. The following day was home, just in time for President Obama's visit, but that's a whole other story...
same as for Dublin, except they mixed up the encore, like so:
Mighty Joe Moon
Lone Star Song
Post-script: recordings of both shows coming soon.