It’s a tentative start from Grandaddy, back touring a new album, their first since 2006. “Hello?” offers lead singer Jason Lytle, looking out uneasily at the Bristol crowd. “Ok, that’s got the talking out of the way.”
And for the rest of the night he’s more or less true to his word, concentrating instead on leading the band through selections from their five albums, including the recently released Last Place.
It turns out there’s a reason for the uncertainty. Regular lead guitarist Jim Fairchild (also of Modest Mouse) has had to leave the tour. Lytle’s only other spoken contributions are to lavish thanks and praise upon his last minute stand-in. Gladly, while Lytle is content to fade into the background, his songs are rare gems and his singing voice is as striking as ever.
It’s been a long time away for Grandaddy, but their sound and especially their lyrical themes have aged with good grace. The uneasy pitching of nature against technology feels even more foreboding now than when the theme first appeared in their work twenty years ago.
Aside from some light corpsing during the intro, on 'He’s simple, he’s dumb, he’s the pilot' Lytle sounds every bit the enlightened alien, the not-so-paranoid android warning us of what’s to come. It’s an enthralling performance, particularly the doomy piano of the Pink-Floyd-esque coda.
Such heavy emoting is heightened by the projected film that accompanies the set. The visual imagery is pure Grandaddy: impossibly vast goods trains plough towards a desolate horizon; running water fades to middle-American factory-scapes; a lonely fox scampers across a field between pixelated neon rainfall. The effect is only briefly punctured when two enormous tractors emerge from a barn and - this being the West country - the crowd get rather excited.
Thankfully this fits with the convivial mood of the evening. Despite their unexpected line-up change, the band are visibly enjoying revisiting their older songs. 'A.M. 180' sounds as fresh and catchy as ever. 'The Crystal Lake' is a showcase for those well-loved Grandaddy signature moves: synth arpeggios and weary alienation.
The band are also clearly confident in their new material. The Beatlesy stomp of 'The Boat is in the Barn' is a deserving encore. The strutting 'I Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore' is so self-assured in its angst, with its three-chord trick and two-and-a-half-minute run-time, it could be a theme to a TV show. Grandaddy’s remake of The Monkees perhaps, directed by Lars von Trier.
Another oldie, 'Summer here kids', closes the show. It’s a low key barnstormer, a discordant nearly-singalong. As he reaches the final line, “I’m not having a good time”, a big grin creeps over Jason Lytle’s face. He appears glad to be back.