Andy Grammer started out as a performer on the streets of Santa Monica, busking on the Third Street Promenade, where his talents did not go unnoticed. Within just a few years, he signed with S-Curve records, was named an “Artist to Watch” by Billboard magazine, and his feel-good anthem, “Keep Your Head Up,” won an MTV award for most innovative video. He won us over in 2011 with his debut, self-titled album, and now, with his second album just out, Andy Grammer still holds a place in our hearts due to his catchy tracks and his contagious optimism.
On Thursday night, Andy’s Back Home: Summer Tour played its closing show at the Great American Music Hall, a 600-person theatre in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. The venue exudes a historic grandeur, a richness that can only come from enduring over 100 years, and the classic beauty of its painted ceiling and molded balconies provided a refreshing juxtaposition to the Andy Grammer’s eclectic sound.
Before the show started, SF Culture Shock had the incredible opportunity to chat with Andy backstage (read our interview here), and within minutes of returning to our seats, the first opener, Brendan James, was sitting down at the piano, ready to begin. His set was a collection of expressive ballads that were heavy without crossing over into heavy-handed and his vibrato-tinged tenor brought a certain lushness to his earnest lyrics. With songs like “Hillary” – about a young girl looking to the future with high hopes – and “Different Kind of Love” – about being stuck in a relationship before realizing that you deserve better – Brendan bridged the generation gap and resonated with all of the audience, young and old alike.
And then, as Andy Grammer hinted during our interview, something crazy happened… Andy came barreling onto the stage with a chicken suit in his hands and tugged it over Brendan’s head in time for him to sing one of the more emotional songs of his set. All poultry jokes aside, the chicken suit didn’t detract in the slightest from his melodic performance. At the song’s conclusion, Andy reemerged with a birthday cake and the audience all joined in singing Happy Birthday to Brendan, enthusiastically, but very off-key. Brendan James remained in the chicken suit as he polished off the cake and finished his set by thanking the audience, thanking Andy, and announcing his own headline tour. The audience whistled and clapped at his conclusion, and I am sure that many have marked their calendars for the eleventh of October, when Brendan James returns to San Francisco to sing from behind his piano once again.
The introspective mood shifted when the second opener took to the stage. With a bandana wrapped around his head and an acoustic guitar in his hands, Andrew Ripp exploded into a song with a distinctive Tennessee twang. He was sweet and endearing, but his voice was powerful as he fearlessly explored the far reaches of his vocal range. “I write songs from the bottom of my heart,” he said, “And a while back, I realized that I was only living life halfway. I was just surviving. So I decided I wanted to live 150%.” That ‘leave no moment unlived’ attitude was present in every song, especially when he called out to the audience, “OK! This is your opportunity! I know you can feel it – this is your opportunity to shake your butt! Really dance – don’t be afraid to sweat – Dance!” And it was then that Andy Grammer chose to come back onto the stage with another animal costume for his opener to don. Andrew stepped into the rabbit suit, complete with a pink pom-pom tail, and graciously waited for Andy to zip him up before banging out the booty-shakin’ song he promised. His country-rock style revved up the audience and primed us for Andy Grammer’s high-on-life attitude. He finished his set with one final caveat: “I’m living 150%. Y’all gotta go out there and live – go on the road with your boys, prank each other, enjoy life. Live life.”
Then it was time for the headliner to perform. One by one, his musical accompaniments walked onto the stage, layering guitar onto bass onto drums, so that when Andy Grammer finally emerged and sat down at his keyboard, the musical backdrop to “Fine By Me” was already painted and he just needed to start singing. From the moment Andy began to sing, his infectious energy permeated the room and you couldn’t help but smile. And gradually a change swept over the entire audience. People started bouncing, then hands started waving, and then every single person threw away all remaining inhibitions and began to sing at the top of their lungs. The Great American Music Hall was vibrating with the collective sound of 600 blissful attendees and Andy’s silky vocals.
Andy alternated between the old tracks we all know and love and some sneak-peeks of his second album, Magazines or Novels, which was released a few weeks after the show. “Here’s a song for the ladies,” Andy announced, “it’s called ‘Forever’ and it’s about how frickin’ long it takes you to get ready and how we almost don’t even want to go out anymore, but then you come out of the bathroom and look really hot and it’s all okay. It’s so damn confusing to us guys.” His commentary was drowned out by the shouts of “been there-done that” from all the guys and guilty snickers from the ladies standing next to them. Despite the humor in its conception and the pantomime performance of the musicians behind him, Andy’s new song was affectionate and well received. His fantastic set was filled with feel-good anthems from his famous “Keep Your Head Up” to his hit new single “Back Home,” and he even threw in a dance number with “Honey, I’m Good,” introducing with a warning: “It’s gonna get a little hotter in here – not that it isn’t hot enough already – we’re gonna do a two-step and you gotta get into it.”
The show came to a close much too quickly – I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we weren’t ready for our night with Andy to end – but not until after an inspired encore performance. “I wrote about 50 songs,” Andy mused, “and I realized, that’s not good enough. You guys are great and I don’t want to give you something unless it’s really good.” And boy, did he give us something really good — “Remind You” was beautiful. He luxuriated in the slow build up, serenading the audience from his stool, but then the pace quickened and the use of a synthesizer-mic during the chorus was intoxicating.
Then, as Andy started to sing his final song of the night, both of his openers bounded onto the stage for their final-show prank. A blender full of ice and orange juice, an impromptu game of ping-pong, and grown men in animal costumes dancing and drinking orange slushies from red solo cups. It was wacky. It was crazy. But it was energetic. And it was lively. And it brought home the message that each artist had been trying to impart on the audience: Don’t wait another moment to live your life.
I think Andy summed it up perfectly when he said, “It’s like when you’re eating crackers and cheese. You try to be strategic about how much cheese you put on each cracker – you want to make it last – but then you get to the last cracker and you have all this cheese. Just take it all! Don’t be afraid to put every bit of cheese that’s left on that last cracker.”
Andy closed his Back Home: Summer Tour at the Great American Music Hall on a Thursday night with hundreds of clapping, singing, dancing fans. It was a night of joviality and incredible music. That night, the Great American Music Hall was a giant cracker, and Grammer loaded it with cheese.
Photos by Jen Horton / Staff