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Grandaddy burns through first songs to settle into hazy groove


Jim White closed his opening set for Grandaddy Saturday night at the PlanetJam Cotton Club with his newest album's most rockin' moment: "10 Miles to Go on a Nine-Mile Road." With two guitars and a muscularity generally lacking from the album, White and cohorts torched the song. Heads bobbed, and a pair of yokels near the stage danced some half-pogo steps like drunken robots.

It was enough to make you forget the new album -- a pastiche of blues-poetry mixed with pop and country in Beck's computerized blender -- and think the Bottle Rockets.

And therein lies the difference between opener and headliner. White and company played music to make you shake your thang, while Grandaddy played music for make-believe.

On paper, the pairing doesn't seem so incongruous. When Gram Parsons coined the phrase "cosmic American music," he could have been talking about both acts, albeit at slightly different points of the spectrum -- White at country and Grandaddy at western, but both slightly obtuse and spaced-out.

But the West that Grandaddy evokes on its new album, while expansive, is cluttered with the detritus of modern life -- broken Maytag washers, keyboards, robots and food processors -- and different from the lonely, desert spaciousness of, say, Giant Sand. On headphones, the sound of Grandaddy's 2000 release The Sophtware Slump, heavy with keyboards and computer effects, gives a claustrophobic feel to the expanse -- a phobia that also is comforting in its insistence that we're not alone.

On record, Jason Lytle, Grandaddy's chief architect, seems willing to drill every melodic point home, so the songs start to suffer from too much attention. The band is still working after the job is already done. Caught live, the attention seems more organic and less forced.

Grandaddy came on stage to the sounds of a new-fangled choir and soft hallelujahs. A video projection featuring a row of windmills on an otherwise empty hill backed the five-piece. Lytle emerged in a simple white T-shirt, his bearded face topped with a frumpy, white baseball cap you'd expect to see on a homeless man at a bus stop.

The band burned through the first few songs, including the dum-dum, dum-dum guitar and shimmering string-scenery of "Hewlett's Daughter," with Lytle using his lulling indie-pop vocal delivery to transport the listener to a solitary western outpost to join him in "treating water and waste at night."

After the first few songs, the band seemed to settle into a hazy groove, throwing in a tossed-off version of "You Are My Sunshine," and Lytle acknowledged the clammy web being weaved by the band.

The shows begin with intensity, and then move to a groove, Lytle says, "kind of like we're all on drugs." And if there ever was a band made for absinthe, Grandaddy is it -- all cloudy and metallic, almost dream-inducing.

And that's how the show went, fading in and out of songs such as "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" (a highlight), "AM 180" and "Non-Phenomenol Lineage" (all from 1996's Under the Western Freeway) -- plus a tough, guitar-soloing version of "Chartsengrafs" -- without breaking the spell. The band only misstepped with its visual show. The images often seemed superfluous and the cheesy "Enter Sandman" video of the band at work was out of place.

To close the show, Lytle told the crowd, "We're going to throw you a curveball here ... It also happens to be one of the saddest songs on the face of the earth." Then came George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" re-envisioned as squalling pop. Somehow, Grandaddy made it fit inside its spaced-out, appliance-strewn showroom West.

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