Since the lockdown, one thing that I personally have missed is the opportunity to hear live music in a venue away from home with close friends and acquaintances or even strangers who may become a regular acquaintance or a future friend. But many of the bands I regularly see live have figured out a way to continue to remain productive and available through streaming of live concerts in a studio setting, or streaming recorded concerts that are shown at a later date. The prices range from a few dollars to costs that come close to a ticket at a local venue. Depending on the musicians, the options can be limited or limitless.
Over the first two Sunday evenings of 2021, I have been able to enjoy the live performances of one of my favorite singer/songwriter/performers: Grant-Lee Phillips. These 30 minute, intimate concerts are dubbed, “Live from the Parlor,” which appears to be in front of the hearth at Phillips’s residence on music performance streaming website www.stageit.com.
A native Californian who, along with his family, now calls Nashville, Tennesee, home, Phillips was the topic of an article I wrote a couple of years ago detailing how he was scheduled to play at the Decatur, Georgia, acoustic venue Eddie’s Attic. That venue has long been a destination for him at the beginning of each year due to his participation in the 30A Songwriter’s Festival in Florida, a weekend-long event that has been happening now for years.
When I went to the show, I took Phillips a copy of the article I had written about him along with my own copy for him to sign. I was pleased to be able to hand him something I had written in his honor, as his songs are among my all-time favorites.
Phillips is a genial performer live, and regardless of the album he is promoting, his sense of humor shines through each of his appearances. My initiation to his live demeanor was when his former band, Grant Lee Buffalo, played Earth Jam ‘95 at Stone Mountain Park. The show was certainly energetic, but the sound of Phillips’s sonorous yet soaring vocals, underscored by a churning, Americana-styled backing band stuck with me. Afterward, I revisited the band’s 1993 debut C.D., “Fuzzy,” and its roster of impressive, introspective, and insightful songs that ran the gamut between hard rock and balladry. I became hooked in short order.
My next live experience with Grant Lee Buffalo was at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, when they were promoting their third album, 1996’s “Copperopolis.” That record would be the last they did as a three piece. Bassist/producer/keyboardist Paul Kimble would depart Phillips and drummer, Joey Peters, by album four, 1998’s “Jubilee.”
Again, with the promotional tour for “Jubilee,” I was in attendance at the tour’s beginning, and toward its end, both times in Atlanta. Phillips’s charismatic delivery, and his boundless energy were infectious each night.
Phillips would eventually begin a solo career, swapping the Buffalo for his own surname, and adding a hyphen between his first two names. For his initial release, he recorded the subdued, yet heartfelt 1999 album, “Ladies’ Love Oracle.” The cover of the album amusingly depicts Phillips on an unmade bed, playing the Gibson hollowbody he had begun to feature in the latter-day Grant Lee Buffalo concerts.
The album’s genesis began when Phillips began recording some songs in the basement studio of Los Angeles-based composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Jon Brion, a friend with whom he had previously worked. As sparse as the recording is at times, it does not lose any power or beauty in its performances, and now, over 20 years after its release, Phillips took the opportunity to feature the entire album on last Sunday evening’s performance on www.stageit.com.
Phillips’s concerts have proven to be exciting, though they are intimate. Audience members get to name their price on the concert tickets, and tipping the artist is encouraged and appreciated. As this Sunday’s show is sure to be one of excellence from Phillips, you owe it to yourself to attend.
Alex McGill is an educator and musician living in Haralson County.