Josh Rouse Joins Grant-Lee Phillips

IMG_6249For a joint tour that ends in a collaboration, Josh Rouse and Grant-Lee Phillips don’t look like they’ll immediately go together.

Rouse, in a three piece suit and tie, travels in a breezy, sophisticated kind of guitar pop bordering on light jazz. Phillips growls and rocks in a manner suited to his old band Grant Lee Buffalo.

But there is a mutual respect and an adherence for songcraft and turn of phrase that makes theirs a more natural pairing than one would expect.

In a Saturday night stop at the Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C.’s year-old Wharf district, the two worked individual sets on the barest of stages. Aside from a couple of wedge monitor and a tuning pedal, they had nothing else. Not additional guitars for the empty holders behind them. Not even set lists.

That may have meant more freewheeling performances than usual, open to requests or songs they hadn’t played for a while.

Phillips took the stage feeling feisty, wisecracking between songs, and starting with a couple from his latest album, Widdershins, before moving back to his first solo album Virginia Creeper with “Far End of the Night.”

There were a trio of songs from the 90s band he led, Grant Lee Buffalo, invigorating the middle of the set. But he largely dwells in a folkie realm these days, with impressive fingerpicking skills behind his deft lyric touch. He reached a high point with songs like “Buried Treasure” and “San Andreas Fault,” and in between played a couple of requests, “See America,” which he probably would have played anyway, and “Lily-a-Passion” which he probably would not have.

It was The Church’s “Under the Milky Way,” which Phillips covered on his “nineteen eighties” album that was chosen for he and Rouse to play together to start their brief encore; their acoustic guitars interlocking just right on the spooky old song.

They also played a new song, “Empire State,” which they said they had been writing together for 20 years. It was good they stuck with it — and found time to do this surprisingly rewarding double bill tour.

IMG_6251Overdressed as he was (perhaps like the “Businessman” in one of his latest singles) Rouse had a fine set, punctuating the swirl of his acoustic guitar approach with harmonica.

With 12 albums over the past 20 years and one, Love in the Modern Age, just out, Rouse had a lot to draw from. He also had a devoted audience willing to help out on backing vocals on songs new (the title cut from the new album) and old (“Winter in the Hamptons”).

For those spoiled by the quiet demanded at D.C. area rooms like the Birchmere and City Winery, there was some pretty annoying sound spillover at the Pearl Street, with barflies yapping in the back, mixed drinks shaken without heeding the quieter songs, and even the back part of the bar open to the bypassing crowds of the Wharf on a busy Saturday.

Lighting wasn’t very sharp either, with things pretty dim on the performers and the brightest thing by far in the room the huge neon bar logo blazing behind them.

Each performer had his own way to deal with the interference; Phillips tended to drive harder into his guitar, while Rouse went the other direction, unplugging his acoustic and stepping away from the microphone altogether to roam the room — even stepping into the balcony — as he dug his “Love Vibration,” the crowd hushing as it watched and sung the chorus. It was, as he hinted in his opening song, “A Lot Like Magic.”


The setlist for Josh Rouse Saturday was: 

  • “A Lot Like Magic”
  • “Come Back (Light Therapy)”
  • “It’s the Night Time”
  • “1972″
  • “Love in the Modern Age”
  • “Crystal Falls”
  • “Middle School Frown”
  • “My Love Has Gone”
  • “Winter in the Hamptons”
  • “Saturday”
  • “Sad Eyes”
  • “Love Vibration”
  • “Under the Milky Way”
  • “Empire State”

The setlist for Grant-Lee Philips Saturday was: 

  • “The Wilderness”
  • “Somethings Gotta Give”
  • “Far End of the Night”
  • “Smoke and Sparks”
  • “Mighty Joe Moon”
  • “Honey Don’t Think”
  • “Mockingbirds”
  • “Buried Treasure”
  • “See America”
  • “Lily-a-Passion”
  • “Walk in Circles”
  • “San Andreas Fault”
  • “It Ain’t the Same Old Cold War Harry”
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