Jason Lytle, center, leads Grandaddy at the Fonda. (Chris Barton / Los Angeles…)
If rock critics ran the world, Monday night's show with Grandaddy would've been the equivalent of those hotly anticipated Pixies reunion shows from a few years back, or at least a new date with the freshly reconvened No Doubt.
Instead, there were still a few tickets available at the Fonda as the band kicked off the last of four California dates before launching a longer run of performances on the European festival circuit. Which isn't to say Grandaddy wasn't well-received among their faithful, most of whom have aged along with the band and still echo its rustic aesthetic with plaid shirts and trucker hats while giving songs like early single "A.M. 180" the rapturous reception befitting the return of a cult favorite.
Still, Grandaddy was tabbed for bigger things. After becoming critical darlings for the 2000 album "The Sophtware Slump" -- an ambitious, sweetly gloomy slice of post-millennial tension examining isolation in the technology age -- the group earned some talk as the "American Radiohead," which became an unfortunately common critical refrain in the early '00s.
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Follow-up albums "Sumday" and "Just Like the Fambly Cat" didn't leave the same mark, and lead singer and songwriter Jason Lytle blew up the band in 2006 for a career that's found him collaborating with M. Ward and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, and his second solo album that echoes Grandaddy's lush sound comes out on Anti- in the fall.
And while the group's long-term prospects seem uncertain at best, Grandaddy was in fine form at the Fonda, churning through a set that leaned heavily on its 2000 peak and its more polished follow-up "Sumday." After an opening set from the like-minded local band Earlimart, Grandaddy flexed a spacious sound scuffed and colored by vintage synthesizers, psychedelic textures and a flashes of sunny pop backed by a video screen that projected such a jumble of cat antics, costumed pranks and motocross falls it at times resembled the Internet itself.
The driving "Chartsengrafs" featured a more muscular, shoegaze-adjacent sound, and the brightly churning "Now It's On" still sounded like one of the finest guitar pop songs of the '00s with an anthemic chorus of "Once you're outside you won't want to hide anymore."
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With a battery of head-bobbing could've-been-hits such as "The Crystal Lake," "El Caminos in the West" and "Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake" spiked with addictive synthesizer hooks, it was hard not to wonder why Grandaddy came to be more popular in Europe, exemplified in the expanded tour itinerary overseas. Maybe the answer lay with Lytle's melancholy view toward the conflict between technology and nature, which frequently hints that the battle is already being lost. The idea seemed inescapable during the elegiac set-closer in "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" and the spare ballad "Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer."
Backed by an animated short featuring a girl and her cat exiting a crumbling world for outer space, Lytle distantly sang of bleak, recession-ready images that included brokedown satellites, high-rise carcasses and dead malls over an echoing piano melody. Like many of his songs, Lytle is looking for another world, even though the next one probably isn't much better.
Still, it sounded good to Lytle. "This 'get back together and play' thing, I have to admit I had some reservations," he said just before going into the next song. "But I got to admit it's fun." With a little luck, Lytle's uniquely damaged idea of fun will go on.