Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grant Lee Phillips Live At The CSPS Hall

Photo by Charles Raianerastha Black
Grant Lee Phillips
Live at the CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Wednesday, May 16, 2013

A famous man once said, “You can tell a lot about a man by the shoes he wears.” The man who made that quote, the late Buster Brown, could probably tell by Grant Lee Phillips’ footwear that the man had traveled some miles in them.

He had a pair of well-worn boots, the kind that you’d expect from a journeymen-even ones like Mr. Phillips, an artist so good that you’d like him to be popular enough to make him just a bit more than a journeyman. This man deserves a new pair of boots, goddamn it, so make a point to show up as his gig the next time he’s in town.

It’s a pleasure.

Trust me. Grant Lee Phillips possesses the kind of talent that he’ll captivate you with only a song and an acoustic guitar. The dude’s aged wonderfully, and it isn’t until you’re right up on Grant Lee before you notice the day-old stubble’s a bit gray. It adds character, you see, but that childish twinkle in the corner of his eye is still there as is an infectious smile and an amiable personality.

I’m speaking from the perspective of the obligatory “meet and greet” after Wednesday night’s solo performance by Mr. Phillips’ at the C.S.P.S.Hall in the Bohemian District of Cedar Rapids. Grant Lee exchanged small talk with a few lingering fans after his performance, signing autographs and mentioning Iowa’s natural beauty as a means to dodge questions like “Why has it been nearly 20 years since Grant Lee Phillips’ last visit to the Hawkeye state.”

It worked, and the 80 minute long set certainly captured the hearts of the three dozen attendees who braved a beautiful spring evening to spend it with Mr. Phillips.

For the last visit, it was under the Grant Lee Buffalo moniker, and the gig was an opening slot for early supporters R.E.M.

The show on Wednesday night was an open night stop to Cedar Rapids, Iowa in support of a fan-funded release, Walking In The Green Corn. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the title track for that release made its way into Grant Lee’s solo set that evening.

But even though most in attendance would only recognize the songs made during Grant Lee Buffalo brief flirtation with commercial notoriety, Mr. Phillips has the kind of creativity to ensure that you will always find a memorable song or two from his newer repertoire.

For one fan, it would be an infamous cover that he shouted at Grant Lee when he asked the audience during the encore. Hell, there were only 36 people-so it was understandably more of a living room vibe, which made the evening all the better.

The cover was “Age Of Consent,” and when Grant Lee protested that he didn’t even remember how to play the tune, the audience member shouted out instructions.

“Capo on 4!” yelled the man.

“What?” Grant Lee replied, explaining earlier that his hearing was shot after spending his entire life in front of a drummer.

Some people near the front translated the chord progressions, and Grant Lee obediently reached into his coat pocket for a capo. “Fourth fret?” he re-affirmed with the fan, and then he began considering the notes of the song’s chorus, tentatively singing “And you’re not the kind that needs to tell me/about the birds and bees.”

After one quick verse, Grant Lee acknowledged that it sounded an awful like one of his songs, and as if to prove the point, he suddenly reprised a quick verse of his “Walking In The Green Corn.”

He joked that all of his songs are just New Order knock-offs, and we all laughed because we knew it wasn’t true. Grant Lee Phillips was responsible for some of the most challenging music moments of the 90’s, and his talents continue unabated to this day.

A quick refresher is in order, and the intimacy of these solo offerings only amplify the emotional heaviness that seems to linger after the obligatory Mighty Joe Moon material and the lone Copperopolis track for the evening.

You won’t notice and won’t mind the unfamiliar songs. At all. They flow seamlessly in and out of the set and resonate just as deep as the more familiar tunes.

As I purchased Walking In The Green Corn after the show, I wanted my financial contribution to affirm the quality of Grant Lee’s newest works. But then I noticed his boots.

It was then that I hoped that the money I forked over for a cd would help contribute in some way, to some new footwear. A pair that is less about making sure Grant Lee Phillips arrives at his next destination in style, but rather to make sure that he stays committed to remain on this road for the long haul. 

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