So I just got to see my favourite band in the whole world play in a pretty intimate venue, and it was absolutely magical. I’m still high as a kite from it and wishing I’d spent every last penny I could find to see all the shows on the tour. The core four members of the band, Emil Amos, Alex Hall, Zac Riles and William Slater, were joined by two friends Jesse Bates and Jay Clarke, who lent their talents on a range of additional instruments and were completely essential to the live experience. I’m rather incapable of being objective about this band, so I’m not even going to try…if you want a review of the show instead of an unabashed outpouring of affection, you might need to look elsewhere.
For those who haven’t heard them, Grails are an instrumental band from Portland Oregon, who draw inspiration from a vast array of eclectic music that ranges from Pink Floyd and Sun City Girls to Italian film soundtracks and library music. Their sound changes from song to song and album to album, and is sometimes dark, sometimes exotic, but always beautiful, atmospheric and amazingly descriptive.
It was pretty great to see each musician up close and get a better grasp of their individual styles, as most of them play a number of different instruments both live and on the recordings. Standing right up the front with only a couple of people occasionally blocking my view, I watched Zac work his magic on 12-string guitar, William lay down his distinctively mellow bass-lines whilst juggling a few keys and even some vocal texture, and blood pour out of Emil’s left hand after some over-exuberant drumming (if you’ve seen Emil play with Om you’ll know this isn’t particularly uncommon).
Jesse Bates (lap steel), Emil Amos (drums) and Bill Slater (bass):
Zac Riles (12 string and guitar):
Sitting quietly to the side of the stage, Jay contributed melodica and other keyboards as well as some samples and extra percussion here and there, while Jesse proved to be an incredible lap steel player who sat up the front and played many of the familiar lead guitar lines throughout the show. He also added some extra percussion here and there, and played drums on several songs including the wonderful ‘Almost Grew My Hair’ which was possibly the highlight of the whole show for me.
Jay Clarke (melodica):
Jesse Bates (lap steel):
Alex Hall (guitar) and Bill Slater (bass):
If my memory doesn’t fail me, the set was opened with the semi-spooky ‘I Led Three Lives’ from their latest album Deep Politics, and then proceeded through a surprising catalog of my personal favourites from every album after and including the Black Tar Prophecies collection. We were treated to a synth-driven re-imagining of ‘Back to the Monastery’ that gave it an awesome futuristic prog vibe, the majestic ‘Silk Road’ and ‘Origin-ing’ from Burning Off Impurities, ‘Reincarnation Blues’, ‘Immediate Mate’ and ‘Acid Rain’ from Doomsdayer’s Holiday, ‘Take Refuge’ from Take Refuge in Clean Living, and also from Deep Politics was the gorgeously cinematic ‘All the Colors of the Dark’. I couldn’t have really hoped for a more perfect set-list, and every track sounded even bigger and more intense than I expected.
Emil Amos (guitar), Jesse Bates (drums) and Bill Slater (bass):
Not many people were filming or recording, which was actually a nice change from the majority of shows I see these days, so I doubt many videos will surface of this show, but someone did catch the second half of ‘Take Refuge’ which you can enjoy below (bummer they didn’t get the first). If you ever get the chance to see this band live, do yourself a favour and go. They don’t tour often, and when they do it’s a rare and special experience.
Thanks Grails, you’re the best!