Best Band on the Planet 

Sometimes, even a jaded critic gets to be a fan.

Oddly enough, the most autobiographical tunes in Grandaddy's arsenal are evidently those that involve jaded, despondent, booze-addled robots.

These guys are from Modesto, alright.

Guitarist Jim Fairchild vehemently denies this. (The robot thing, not Modesto, though he'd probably deny that too if he could.) As evidence he cites "I'm on Standby," a standout tune on Grandaddy's latest record, Sumday. Written -- as are all the band's tunes -- by frontman Jason Lytle, the song evidently has misled everyone.

"For some reason virtually every single person who talks about that song is convinced that Jason is singing from the perspective of a robot, which is -- I don't know," he says. "It sounds like the most autobiographical song on the record, almost. Everybody's totally like 'No, no, no, he's singin' about a robot.' Well, no, he's not."

Of course not. Let's prove it. Fire up the chorus:

Bye/I'm on standby/Out of order or sort of/Unaligned/ Powered down for redesign/Bye-bye/I'm on standby/According to the work order/That you signed/I'll be down for some time.

Jim's argument also falters when you consider "Jed the Humanoid," off Grandaddy's previous record, The Sophtware Slump. In this instance, inventors of a bona fide thinking, feeling robot lament going out of town and returning to find that Jed has raided the liquor cabinet and thus killed himself.

Jed had found our booze and drank every drop/He fizzled and popped/He rattled and knocked/And finally he just stopped.

"Well, 'Jed' was a totally autobiographical song, too," Jim says. "You fucked yourself up, and how far are you gonna take it before you fizzle and pop and drop?"

Stop.

"Why do I care about any of this?" you may inquire.

Simple.

Grandaddy is the best fucking band on the planet.

For devout music fans -- and particularly music critics, for whom listening to new bands and CDs often becomes a mechanical, clinical, dispassionate process -- it's important every once in a while to get absurdly, overbearingly fired up over some band you really honestly truly just like. Divorce yourself from media hype, ironic quotient, bandwagon zeal. Be a fan.

Grandaddy -- a five-man indie rock outfit fond of enormous beards, vintage keyboards, and sweetly Californian melodies voiced through the metallic lips of suicidal robots -- deserves such bombastic zeal. Sophtware Slump is nothing short of astonishing, a gauzy electro-folk rumination on the epic brawl between the beauty of nature and the insistent pull of technology. Anyone aware of an individual indie rock tune more sprawling and beautiful than the nine-minute album-opener "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" should make Down in Front aware of it immediately.

Sumday, meanwhile, easily ranks among 2003's best, applying Lytle's raspy, high-pitched voice to shorter and more succinct pop lullabies that just so happen to often be unbelievably depressing. That's where Modesto comes in -- Jim has previously described our neighbor to the near east as a "pretty sad, depressing, sort of pathetic place to live." And though he's merrily chilling out at home now in between touring jags, he hasn't exactly changed his tune.

"Listen to songs like 'Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake' [about a miscreant pack of high-school kids] or 'Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World' [self-explanatory]," Jim says. "There's desperate situations everywhere, but while those song are not necessarily specifically Modesto, they're probably more small-town-depressed-economy with a lack of much ... [he thinks for a second] ... good, socially or culturally."

Modesto's distinct lack of good has not been Grandaddy's only long-term band issue; there's also the Opening Act Curse. As a certifiable Band Other Bands Really Like, Jim and the boys often find themselves supporting big-name artists with finicky fans who're often indifferent to the lumberjack-lookin' dudes playing keyboards before, say, Coldplay hits the stage. An early-summer run opening for alt-rock heartthrob Pete Yorn confirms this. Frustration with crowd indifference contributed to an unfortunate incident at the Indianapolis show, in which Grandaddy opened with a new song entitled "Play Whatever You Want for About Six Minutes."

Everyone's feeling much better now, thanks. Jim even admits being the Opening Act Curse has its own secret advantage. "Sometimes it's nice to know that people aren't looking at it through informed eyes or with informed ears," he says. "Particularly on the Pete Yorn tour -- early-twenties former sorority girls seemed to dominate the audience. It was nice to walk offstage and feel that they had dug it and they weren't sure why they dug it. They didn't know about it; Details hadn't told 'em we were the great band or anything."

Jim received his own surprise during the Pete Yorn era. He is now perhaps the first indie rocker in history sufficiently qualified to jump on his band's official Web site and make the following statement: "I'd like to extend a very personal branch of gratitude to all of the people who have wished me well in the wake of being run over by a tractor trailer."

Yes, after an evening of partying aboard Yorn's tour bus, Jim stumbled out just in time for the seventeenth and eighteenth wheels to rumble over his shoulder, breaking myriad bones and shipping him off to the hospital. "I suppose it's a pretty good story," he admits. "I don't like to tell it anymore, though, just because it's a pretty drastic incident, and you're kinda tempting fate if you talk about it like 'I'm such a badass.' I'm pretty well recovered. I've got some gnarly scars on my back, and my arms hurts where the muscles were crushed -- it kinda aches. But, whatever. I'm very, very lucky to be alive. It missed my head by about two inches."

Freed from opening-act tyranny, and boasting a new lease on life, Grandaddy now begins a stint on the road -- commencing with Fillmore dates Wednesday and Thursday -- with splendid Welsh weirdos Super Furry Animals: "My favorite functioning band in the world," Jim gushes. "Great songs, great recordings, great sentiment, great ethics. God bless 'em. God has blessed them, evidently."

Clearly, Jim understands what it's like to be an overjoyed, overzealous fan. His own band's devotees can relate.

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