As much as I love going the distance (literally) for my favorite artists, I was so relieved to see that grandson was bringing his ILYIT tour to Albany’s Empire Underground. This summer marked my fourth time seeing grandson live–and if I’m honest, he simply keeps getting better and better. From intimate picnicky acoustic sets to massive state fair stages and every size club in between, there isn’t a single environment where grandson’s music doesn’t fit.
With the European leg of this tour currently underway, I figured now might be a good time to talk a bit about what to expect from a grandson gig.
“This is our first-ever concert in Albany…”
Before we get into the details about this particular stop on the ILYIT tour, I want to address a very good point that grandson made when addressing the crowds at the beginning of his set.
He asked us, “How many of you traveled to be here?”
The overwhelming roar-like cacophony of cheers that erupted in response to this question made it apparent that I was far from the only one who commuted to Albany for this event.
But honestly, that is not surprising.
Considering Albany is over three hours (depending on traffic) from the ever-popular live music market that is New York City, it’s rare for a major artist, like grandson, to end up performing up there–or anywhere in between these two cities, really.
For fans stuck in the middle (living in a vast, venueless region known as the Hudson Valley), this poses a bit of a problem.
Traveling to NYC isn’t always a viable option for these fans, yet NYC is often the only stop on countless tours for the entirety of New York State.
For instance, fans living near Poughkeepsie (at the end of the Metro-North Hudson line), the last trains home end near midnight, with the final one taking nearly four hours to complete its journey north from Grand Central. Amtrak (via NJTransit) is similarly inaccessible; the last train back to Middletown, NY (near the southern end of the Valley) is at half-past midnight, and involves a transfer in New Jersey with a very short window.
However– Albany is only about an hour-and-a-half drive (an hour by train) from either of these locations, making it a perfect second stop that’s accessible to a huge market of music lovers who, in a few short weeks, are losing one of the only live music venues that they had left.
Of course, booking practices are far beyond artists’ control in many cases.
However, it felt as if the concert gods answered our prayers with this grandson-in-Albany booking.
After all, grandson is one of the best alt rock artists of his generation, especially in a live setting. His music and messaging are something that fans from all demographics, from all locations, should be exposed to.
He’s the artist that will make you start to give a shit about the world again, to put it bluntly.
Additionally, the show etiquette that Jordan Benjamin himself advocates for at every single one of his gigs is game-changing. I have never experienced anything like it; attendees are happy to oblige, extending the same warmth and courtesy to each other as grandson extends to us. It’s amazing.
“So, we are going to govern ourselves tonight…”
This is the “grandkid” code of conduct, as told by grandson:
“The first rule–and the most important one– when I say ‘Jump!’ You…?” // “JUMP!!!”
“The second rule–if you know any words that are coming off this stage and into your fucking earholes tonight, I need you to sing them back as they come at you.
And then the third rule is that if a mosh pit breaks out in any way, shape, or form [and] you have a problem with it– you’re the one who has to get out of the way.
And if you want to get into it, then you need to get in the way…you know what I’m saying?”
But the artist doesn’t end his instructions there.
The grandson ideology emphasizes community and connection, so he goes on to lay out guidelines for the exact sort of inclusive, neighborly behavior he expects from his crowd:
“But if anyone gets knocked down, or if anyone feels uncomfortable, that’s a problem, does that make sense?
We want to make sure this is a safe space for every single person here.
Front row at a rock show… someone is going to push you.
I don’t see any security… so we are going to govern ourselves tonight.”
That self-governance panned out well in Albany that night.
This was the smallest venue of the whole tour, and as a result, fans were shoulder-to-shoulder in the bunkerlike club. The room was designed almost like a funnel. Upon entering the venue, fans found themselves a slim, hallway-esque space (with the bar lined up on one side, temporary merch tables lining the other) that let out into a bigger rectangular space that served as the dancefloor. The bathrooms, naturally, were at the “spout” of this funnel–and the crowd was so dense with bodies that once you got to your spot in front of the stage, you were pretty much stuck.
However, these bodies sardined together in the sweatiest basement in the entirety of Albany quickly took on names, as we were directed to introduce ourselves to our neighbors right after grandson laid out his expectations for our behavior that night.
“This is the first grandson concert here in Albany, but as you know, it’s more than just a sound, right? It’s an ideology.
What we’re singing about is inclusive, progressive values… and sometimes, thinking the way that we think, being the way that we be, you might feel alone in those kinds of things. Being yourself might ostracize you from your community.
But I want you to look around at all these hundreds of people here tonight that showed up, that love you for who you are, and that showed up to be a part of this thing with you.
So, I’d like you to take just 20 seconds and look around and actually introduce yourself to somebody else here–and welcome them to their first grandson show.”
I honestly believe that this sort of artist-driven attendee code of conduct has immeasurable impacts on the crowd.
This was the first show where folks didn’t outright block my view with their cellphones–or lean the phones literally against me while they try to frame their perfect, Insta-worthy shots… always with their devices held in the space outside of their own line of vision…and always directly in the way of someone else’s, of course.
We’ve all been there–having to watch a concert through a stranger’s cellphone? Awful.
However, that was certainly not the case at the grandson show.
The ‘grandkids’ were mindful of their phone usage. There were even multiple occasions where I noticed fans checking in with one another–making sure everyone had enough space to move, were able to see as well as possible, and didn’t get separated from their groups. There was even a small group of very tall dudes leaned up against the wall beside me, mindful of the much shorter fans around them. Huge props to those dudes.
Hell, I was even able to reclaim my spot in the corner near the sound booth after a much-needed bathroom break– when was the last time you were able to return to the exact spot you put yourself in after going to grab a drink, or taking a smoke or bathroom break? Probably never. I was just as shocked as you.
grandson delivered on his promise for this stop on his tour to be the best show this tiny venue has ever seen
At least, it was the best show I’ve ever seen at the Empire Live/Empire Underground complex.
Having only seen grandson at larger venues, it was honestly such a treat to be able to see him in a smaller, more intimate space–even if the space itself gave more of a ‘secret bunker’ vibe than anything.
The way the music reverberated around in this claustrophobic cement box only made it sound even bigger than it already was. The heavy riffs, the booming drums, Jordan’s vocals–all of it came together in a unique, all-encompassing way that is only possible when literally underground, I suppose.
Albany’s setlist included 19 songs. Among them were a few throwbacks to his earliest releases, which served as a sort of leveled ‘quiz’ for veteran fans. Six of the songs came from the new album that this tour is named after. There were even a couple from Death of an Optimist.
Take a peek:
- Something to Hide
- Oh No!!
- Bury Me Face Down
- Rain (partial)
- When The Bomb Goes
- Apologize (level 1)
- Stick Up (Level 2)
- Best Friends (Level 3)
- We did it
Compared to the other (larger) North American shows, it looks like grandson cut “Riptide”, “Half of my Heart”, and all of the K.Flay collaborations from the setlist. Whether or not this indicates what the upcoming European shows will sound like is to be determined.
I imagine smaller venues like Empire Underground will follow this setlist, whereas larger ones may have a more “complete” version. On the other hand, these shows could look completely different. I guess we shall see. Honestly, I’m excited to find out what the differences might be.
The most impactful moment during this show, however, was leading up to- and continued through- the live production of “Heather”.
On one hand, it was jarring to hear the transition from “Heather” to “Despicable”, given the contrasting moods of both songs. They’re almost like two sides of the same coin in the most devastating way. However, this placement didn’t take away from the emotion of the moment in the least.
Leading up to “Heather”, grandson once again addressed the crowd in a casual, but deeply meaningful, manner.
Here’s a snippet:
“[…] You have no idea what the person next to you at a grandson show is going through, if I’ve learned anything in doing this– [it requires] a lot of empathy, and a lot of compassion, and maybe some of you can think of somebody you wish was here […] but they’re not here for whatever reason, and I wanted to write a song about that.
[One to speak to] that absence.
But more than that, it speaks to a COMMITMENT! that we’re going to come back, and we’re going to keep having these memories together, as long as you don’t go anywhere.
I’m not going anywhere; I’ll try not to.
We on this stage are going to take care of ourselves, but we need that promise back– that you’re not going to go anywhere. Can’t guarantee it, but we’re going to do our best.
So, we’re going to sing this next one dedicated to a fan that’s no longer here.
And it means more if I sing it with you, so I need you to open up some space…”
And then a circle opened up in the center of the dancefloor.
grandson entered the circle with his acoustic guitar in hand, and asked for the lights to be turned off.
Then, he asked for everybody to pull out their phones, turn on their flashlights, and work together to light the place up.
Once the room was twice as bright as it was before, he began to sing.
I had never gotten chills like the ones I felt dripping down my spine that night in Albany.
It was a whole-body feeling; it was warm, it was bittersweet, it was deeply moving–and despite my best efforts to stay composed, tears burned my eyes and the grief I had been personally shoving down as deep as possible for the last year-and-a-half came bubbling to the surface.
After all, the person ‘who I wished was there, but wasn’t’, tragically lost his life two days before the last grandson show I had gone to, during the Death of an Optimist tour. He was the person who inspired my love of music, who always asked me what I was listening to, and who accompanied me to countless rock shows when I was growing up–and most recently, we had bonded over our love of grandson’s “Dirty”.
Of all of the shows I wish he could’ve accompanied me to, grandson’s topped the list.
However, in that moment, as grandson introduced “Heather,” I felt as if my music-loving buddy was once again by my side at a rock show– for the first time since his passing.
As I watched this visionary of an artist go arm-in-arm with fans all throughout the venue, shrouded in the brightest light, one generated by the community he had been building for seven years–
Singing this most intimate song to us–
I realized that grandson represents something bigger than all of us.
grandson represents pure, unadulterated hope.
Seeing him live in concert provides a much-needed reminder that even when things are at their worst… there is always hope.
Hope for change–
Hope for better days–
And, of course, a renewed sense of hope in humanity itself.
Connect with grandson:
Find your local stop on the ILYIT tour by checking out grandson’s website.
Are you enjoying MendoWerks Magazine? Receive updates each week directly in your inbox. Sign up for the newsletter here.