Howe Gelb and Grant Lee Philips @ Whelans 11th October 2014


The show opened with Howe Gelb, dressed in denim, coming on stage and stating that he would be performing songs that dealt with “the ramifications of love” and that they were about 30 years on the road and how he attempts to stay at home and his attempts to stay away from home. “There will be musings” he warned and indeed, across his two solo segments, he let the muse inform his music. There were false starts, unremembered songs or as Gelb put it “that song doesn’t really know me yet”. He told us as he stopped and wondered out loud “how does it go?” He then moved to the keyboard saying,  “let me try this thing. It looks so beautiful”. He played the keyboards then for awhile but it was more an exploration of the instrument than a song.

 Gelb next picked up an electric guitar, inviting the audience to guess when it was made. 1956 it turned to be the year. This segment brought out the best response from the now full audience. “What night is this?” he asked and on hearing it was Saturday he apologised for not putting on his Saturday night suit and promised he would do so for his second half. He then brought on a guest who he announced was the author of the recent Leonard Cohen biography. Out came Sylvie Simmons, the English writer, wearing a plastic tiara, as it was her birthday. She was carrying a ukulele and sang Just a Lonely Cowgirl, which was fun, while Gelb accompanied her on piano. Simmons was in town for a literary festival in Dublin.

Gelb indeed did change into his suit, white shirt and bolo tie for his second solo slot. He also wore a baseball cap to keep the light from his eyes, but felt it was a little “Paris, Texas” and he took it off every now and then. He again used the electric guitar effectively before turning once more to the keyboard which on pressing various buttons went through a range of sounds from strings to voices. This was all entertaining, but somewhat bewildering for much of the audience who were there to see Grant Lee Philips, judging by the applause that greeted Philips’ eventual arrival onstage.

In his first set Philips sang some songs from his back catalogue which went down well, but he then, especially during his second set, concentrated on material from his new solo album while fending off constant calls from segments of the audience for songs from the Grant Lee Buffalo album Fuzzy,  such as Dixie Drug Store. “Ain’t going to happen” he responded saying that some of those songs were so old they were mould and that even the band wouldn’t remember them. He seemed more comfortable singing the new songs, despite his self-deprecating comment that he had got a little larger since his last visit, was in fine voice as he accompanied himself on his acoustic guitar and, occasionally, on Gelb’s electric guitar.

The duo also performed a number of songs, or perhaps best described as a flirtation with a number of songs, together. Gelb asked the audience “anything you don’t want to hear?” and described himself and Philips as “good cop/bad cop” but neither was sure who was which. Gelb noted the way Philips had swaggered onstage and declared he called him “Swagger Lee”. Still ignoring the shouted request the pair delved into such songs as He Stopped Loving Her Today and closed with a tender version of the Velvet Underground song Pale Blue Eyes that morphed into Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain at times and ended what was an shambolic, out-there, if entertaining performance.

It should also be note that Gelb paid tribute to the late and much missed promoter Derek Nally towards the end of the performance and for that alone he deserves thanks. 

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Ronnie Norton