The Gov is a fair sized venue and for that reason I am hesitant to describe tonight’s first show of Grant-Lee Phillips Australian tour as physically intimate. There are tables and seating arranged on the floor before the stage but there is quite a bit of empty space and the audience are spread far and wide. Support act, from Melbourne via New Zealand, Matt Joe Gow acknowledges this in that he doesn’t often make use of his peripheral vision in the gig setting. Gow is actually quite an appropriate choice of support act, at times sounding like Grant-Lee Phillips, although the slight contrast becomes evident later when the two play together later during the encore. Between songs on acoustic guitar with the occasional use of harmonica, Gow muses on playing these solo versions of his songs. He comments that his mother prefers the original demos and that some of these songs haven’t actually been played without a band before in a live setting. He closes with a countrified version of Joy Division’s Atmosphere.
Less than a quarter hour later, Grant-Lee Phillips arrives and commences with Walk In Circles, the first of five songs from latest album Widdershins. Like Matt Joe Gow, he also makes a subtle reference to the distance between stage and some of the outlying audience with “Yonder folks welcome”, prompting himself to ask what the opposing term for “yonder” is, which is answered by calls of “hither”. He states he’s been in the country for a few days sampling our wonderful coffee and compliments our eggs, something he muses that is probably not often complimented. Following King of Catastrophes, he asks the soundman to turn up his voice in the mix and adds joking, “I’m really enjoying it tonight”. There’s a couple of songs from The Narrows album, Cry Cry and San Andreas Fault which builds slowly to sound almost like he has a band backing him. He then “excavates” some songs from the 90s, and during this part of the set, judging from the audience response, it is quite evident what they are here for tonight. The opening of Mighty Joe Moon evokes loud cheers and this is followed by the similarly received Honey Don’t Think and Jupiter and Teardrop, a sequence of songs from Phillips’ former namesake band Grant Lee Buffalo. He introduces the next song. Happiness, as “not the happiest of songs but it has the word happy in it. That’s saying something”. After Phillips comments, “We can’t stay double parked in the 90s”, this bracket of songs comes to end but not before an audience request for Lone Star Song. After, he states that he had not played that song in a while and “I forgot how much fun it is to perform”. Further requests are deflected in order to play lesser known songs from his solo back catalogue including Black Horses in a Yellow Sky and Josephine of the Swamps. He ends the set with It Ain’t the Same Old Cold War Harry before not quite exiting the stage prior to the encore.
Matt Joe Gow returns to the stage to join Phillips and they perform co-lead vocals on Come to Mama, She Say from the final Grant Lee Buffalo album Jubilee. The two continue with Calamity Jane, a song Phillips admits to not having played in years and unsurprisingly does quite well. Gow leaves Phillips alone on stage again and he introduces “a vintage song”, Fuzzy, lacking the iconic guitar solo but still maintaining the power of when I first heard it nearly twenty five years ago. Although the audience were very pleased, it was obvious they were wanting more but unfortunately the next song, The Shining Hour, another by Grant Lee Buffalo, ended the encore and the set. The gratitude continued post the performance with Grant-Lee Phillips at a side of stage makeshift merchandise set up taking photos, signing CDs and socialising with fans from way back.
Live Review by Jason Leigh