It seems like only yesterday I was at the Dogfish Café’s weekly open mike night enjoying one of my first legal alcoholic beverages and making an embarrassment of myself, when two seemingly innocuous musicians plugged into the PA system with little more than a loop pedal and a prayer. They called themselves ‘Grant Street Orchestra,’ and like many other open mike acts, nobody really knew what to make of them at the time (this was largely due to the fact that: a.) they were only two dudes, and b.) only one of them played an instrument). But before further judgment could be made, the duo took to the stage, and a silence fell over the once clamoring barroom. “Hi, my name is Andy Barbo,” one said. “And I’m Jeff Griecci,” the other replied. “And on June 30, 2012, we’re going to sell out the Empire Dine and Dance with our seven-piece band.” Sure, the remark was bold, but I was half in the bag at this point, and any sort of logical reasoning was well beyond my realm of comprehension. It was what they said next that truly astounded me. “And we’re going to do it all with a magic light bulb that responds to sonic vibrations in the air.”
The bar erupted in laughter.
“A magic light bulb you say? Go back to Grant Street you feeble-minded peasants!” one man shouted back. But just as the crowd was beginning to become restless, the loop pedal was turned on and the microphone was lit a fire. What happened next, I can’t quite recall, but 15 minutes later their set ended, and a riotous round of applause filled the air. The funk had been brought, so to speak, and the once surly crowd had been charmed over. Even Dan Knudsen got down and boogied. But just as soon as the set had started, the music stopped, and the mysterious duo vanished into the night as the last remaining patrons of the bar went their separate ways.
Years passed, and soon I forgot about that fateful night at the Dogfish Café, until one morning I awoke and noticed the date on the calendar. It was June 30, 2012. “Sweet mother of pearls,” I exclaimed, as a flood of memories came rushing back all at once. “Could it be?” Panic-stricken, I raced down to the Empire Dine and Dance, and without hesitation, threw open the doors to the venue, when I was suddenly struck by a blinding light as radiant as the morning sun. As I struggled to regain my composure I squinted ahead, desperately searching in vain for a sign of life through the impenetrable haze that had befallen me.
And then I saw it.
There, amidst a sea of people, it stood: a magical sound-manipulating light bulb as beautiful as one could possibly imagine such a sight would be — its subtle intricacies and metaphysical nature far too baffling to be understood by man.
Oh yeah, and the band was playing.
Yes, after four years, and 828 Facebook ‘likes,’ those same two dudes performing 15 minute sets at the Dogfish open mike had metamorphosed into a gnarly seven-armed mutant of funk before my very eyes, and on that particular night, Grant Street Orchestra sold out the Empire Dine and Dance, magic light bulb and all. Call it fate, call it a prophecy, or simply call it poetic license, but it really happened. And I’ll be damned if the show didn’t kick ass as well.
With local hip-hop juggernauts Educated Advocates and Sandbag opening, the stage was set to detonate, and when GSO hit the floor, a near cataclysmic reaction was felt throughout the room. Yes, tonight would be their final show, but the energy level in this room was so high, it could very well have been measured on a Geiger counter for nuclear activity.
From the first note to the last the band delivered an absolute non-stop set that had the crowd on their feet the entire duration of the show — and while it was bittersweet knowing this could very well be the last live performance of classic GSO tracks like ‘Joaquin Phoenix,’ ‘City of Cracks,’ ‘As Time Goes By,’ ‘The Rhythm,’ and my personal favorite ‘Rumors,’ each song was delivered with such enthusiasm and passion they could very well stand as definitive versions unto themselves. The show was that great. But that wasn’t all GSO had up their sleeves that night — the band also released an entirely new album recorded live at the Space Gallery less than a month ago, that was simultaneously released at the show as well. Hot damn!
But like all good things in life, the story of Grant Street Orchestra too had come to an end, and with a final bow, the band left the stage.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know the members of Grant Street Orchestra, and to see this band rise from such humble beginnings to where they are now in the relatively short amount of time they’ve been together has truly been remarkable. From receiving radio airplay on local stations, to being voted best R&B/Soul/Blues act by the Portland Phoenix, the accolades, along with their fan base, seemed to grow with each passing year as the band became increasingly confident and passionate in their songwriting– something which directly translated to their live show. And as anyone who has ever seen Grant Street Orchestra live before knows, that was when the group was truly in their essence. But beyond the talented musicianship of the ultra-tight band that was GSO, it was their genuine charm and sense of humor that appealed to a wider audience. The fact that these guys really were great friends in real life, as they say, was something that was all the more evident when the band took the stage, and as a member of the audience you couldn’t help but feel one with the band and their crazy antics. There was a sense of camaraderie and willingness to just let go and have fun amongst the crowd at a Grant Street Orchestra show that you just don’t see enough of these days. And for that, as a PBR consuming local music fan around town, I’m thankful.
So, to Geoff Zimmerman, Peter Eberhardt, Henry Redman, Charlie Sichterman, Jared Burst, Andy Barbo and Jeff Griecci: keep on movin’ with the rhythm, wherever you are.
Be sure to check out the band’s final album ‘Super Yes’ on their Bandcamp page: