- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

Concertgoers live for the experience of catching a talented band at its creative peak. In Grandaddy’s Thursday night appearance at the 9:30 Club in support of their stunning new album “Sumday,” that’s exactly what they got.

The performance, like the new album, showcased the trademark Grandaddy sound: swirling keyboards and, by turns, spiky and gentle electric and acoustic guitar enveloping lead singer and songwriter Jason Lytle’s deceptively mundane vocals.

“Sumday” has disappointed many critics and fans hoping for something closer in spirit to 2000’s acclaimed, space-rock-themed “The Sophtware Slump.” Still, the new album is more sweeping and ambitious — and intimate — than its predecessor.

On the band’s first two albums, Mr. Lytle often used remote-sounding space wastelands to conjure his favorite theme, exile, so his new turn toward more introspective songwriting represents a natural evolution.

Given Grandaddy’s reputation for being a studio band, the crispness and accessibility of the new songs in a live setting came as a welcome surprise. “This was the one record where more than ever, we weren’t really thinking what the songs would sound like live or how we’d play them out there,” guitarist Jim Fairchild said in a phone interview before the show.

And yet songs such as the bouncing, sun-baked pop gem “El Caminos in the West” and the driving, anthemic “Now It’s On” exhibited a vibrancy in concert that improved on the recorded versions. Mr. Lytle invested the haunting “‘Yeah’ Is What We Had,” perhaps the most anguished song on “Sumday,” with visceral power as he sang, “Now I walk alone through howling winds/ Fast-food bags wrapped ‘round my shins/ Remembering/ Wondering.”

The band delivered a stirring performance of the album’s standout track, “Lost on Yer Merry Way,” a gently strolling tune that evokes all of “Sumday’s” themes: trying to find one’s place in the world, a sense of separation from home and a restless pursuit of “normalcy.” “All that I’m asking tonight is that I make it back home alive,” Mr. Lytle sang with an earnest plaintiveness before the song exploded into a blistering, guitar-laced crescendo.

The band displayed its versatility on such soaring rockers from its back catalog as “The Crystal Lake” from “Sophtware Slump” and “Summer Here Kids” from 1997’s “Under the Western Freeway.” Another standout from that album was “A.M. 180,” a euphoric tune that features a rubbery Superball of a beat that will lodge itself in your brain.

The band closed with a purposeful version of perhaps its best-known song, the lengthy space epic “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” off of “The Sophtware Slump.” Still, this show was ultimately a showcase for “Sumday,” an album that reveals that you don’t have to be adrift in outer space to feel far away from home.

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