SAN FRANCISCO — Early on in his 75-minute set in front of a sold-out crowd at Slim’s, Grandson made his purpose known.
“If you came here looking for answers, I’m sorry, because you’re going to leave tonight with far more questions,” the Canadian-American alt-rock singer-songwriter said.
Jordan Benjamin brought on his politically charged message of social justice to ground zero of the ’60s counterculture movements. But for the majority of his blistering set, Grandson let the music convey the message while speaking more generalized words of empowerment, encouragement and motivation to change the world for better.
The excitement in the room was palpable as the stocky singer took the stage, the penultimate show of his first headlining run across the country—where every ticket was sold. Grandson made use of every moment of the set, playing every song he’s released over multiple EPs, as well as a cover.
Opener “Stigmata” served as a fitting way to kick off the night, building from a dark electronica bounce to a blues rock stomp and finally full-throated hard rock riffs in the chorus. The tightly packed crowd took no coaxing and came along for the ride from the get-go—bouncing, pumping fists, and singing along with the passion and belief of the message delivered.
The energy stayed fervent for “6:00,” a full-throttle rocker that serves as a lyrical reaction to police violence portrayed on the evening news. The set continued with “Bills” and “Overdose”—the latter tackling the issue of opioid addiction.
Grandson was adept at conveying a relevant and urgent message without preaching, while also delivering a compelling and exciting performance. He had the ability to be somewhat of a vocal chameleon stylistically, effortlessly jumping between pop hooks to rock aggression or a clean hip-hop flow.
Grandson dedicated “Thoughts & Prayers” to anyone that had been impacted by gun violence, saying that many in power “confuse condolences as action.”He pressed the point that the song was written and released just over a year ago, and in that time little to nothing had been done legislatively.
At the midpoint of the set, Benjamin talked about ways fans could make positive changes in their own communities. He highlighted a Bay Area charity that was helping to engage a more diverse voting public. The set continued with the introspective “Is This What You Wanted,” followed by the singalong-inducing “Fallin (Temptation).” The main set unwound with heavy-hitters “Despicable,” “Stick Up” and “Apologize.” And for the main set’s closer, the urgent, beat-heavy “Blood // Water,” Grandson jumped off the stage and triumphantly strode to the bar.
“We only have two songs left we haven’t played, so we’re going to play two more songs,” he said before concluding with “Kiss Bang” and a striking cover of the Bob Marley and the Wailers’ classic “War.” His arrangement made the song his own.
One of the night’s biggest surprises across the three-act bill was the prevalence of electric guitar, and in particular the larger than life ‘guitar god’ solos, not only by the headliner but openers Des Rocs and BarlowLN.
New York’s Des Rocs mixed punk, grunge, classic rock and some rockabilly swing. He provided the perfect energy to get fans ready for the headliner with songs that were big, bold and singable even for those not familiar with the lyrics. Rocs was a natural showman, at one point flipping his guitar behind his lower back and playing a blistering riff.
BarlowLN opened the show with a fusion of hip-hop psychedelia with another surprising variety of musical influence, with Barlow bringing a sneaky flow to his otherwise relatively understated performance. Flanked by a guitarist, Barlow combined a cross-section of hip-hop, electronica, Americana and pop to create something unique—along with his deadpan delivery.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.