Acoustic guitar and, in his words, his finest dungarees for a solo concert in the Elgar room at the historical Royal Albert Hall. This is Grant Lee Phillips in 2017: back to basics, full of life and melodies, travelling by train in between a handful of European cities with his guitar as his only travel companion, entertaining an amused chat with his audience and singing his music, digging deep into his Cherokee roots from his new base in musical, folksy Nashville, Tennessee, producing root music at its best. Phillips was the front man of Grant Lee Buffalo and inevitably the room is full of his loyal fan base.
Stripped down, the Buffalo’s cinematic music, and in particular Mighty Joe Moon, sends some shivers down my spine, with Phillips’ voice moving beautifully and painfully between octaves despite a seasonal cold – it must be all the waiting in the cold at train stations, he quips. Amongst the oldies goldies, Fuzzy is an obvious must, and given the reaction, I feel that most in the audience tonight are here because of Fuzzy.
GLP’s performance is measured, intense and moving. Most of the sadness comes from his latest numbers like Cry, Cry, based on the displacement and onslaught of American first nations, or the very personal Smoke and Sparks, a tribute to his dying father, both extracts from his latest production, The Narrows. Phillips is sweet and funny, trying to live healthily: he even politely declines the offer of a pint of beer from a member of the audience. He is an amazing troubadour, a balladeer, a born performer with many songs in his heart.
20 February 2017: Grant Lee Phillips, Elgar Room, London