Early in his set Tuesday at West Hollywood’s Troubadour, Grant-Lee Phillips commented, “There’s a lot of love and sweat in the house tonight.” There certainly was, as the former leader of local favorites Grant Lee Buffalo showcased a new side to his personality — a funny, passionate rocker. Studding his show with wicked humor, including imitations of television psychic John Edward, Bjork and Riverdance, it’s clear that if his solo career doesn’t work out, Phillips could have a future in comedy.
Not that he has to worry, based on the crowd’s enthusiastic response. Phillips seems liberated by going solo. Where previously he was the most careful and restrained of singers, at the Troubadour he embellished songs with a full range of vocal ornament — swooping melismas, a strong falsetto, lusty whoops and orgasmic moans. He is ably backed by the driving keyboards of Phil Parlapiano, Bill Bonk’s steady bass and Kevin Jarvis’ thundering drums.
Together they turn the electronic folk of “Mobilize” into modern glam-rock. “We All Get a Taste,” Spring Release” and “Love’s a Mystery” started the night off energetically with their caffeinated hooks and Phillips’ pithy guitar work. Things sagged with the introduction of Grant Lee Buffalo material– the ponderous mythopoetic roots rock of “Bethlehem Steel” paled next to the new material. The upbeat “Sweet Home Alabama” riffing of “Dixie Drug Store” improved matters and made it back to the set’s early energy with the enigmatic parables of “Sadness Soot” and the grinding art rock of “Mobilize.”
But even after nearly two hours, Phillips was not ready to give up the stage. After a three-song encore, as he was leaving the stage, he stopped at the piano and sang a solo version of “April Chimes,” with an exhausted but satisfied grin on his face.