The Go-Betweens deserved a stopgap as much as anyone. Watching the DVD that makes up half of That Striped Sunlight Sound a couple months ago was reassuring--they really were as marvelous as ever, and that show I’d caught at Seattle’s beautiful sit-down Triple Door dinner theater really was the best concert I saw in 2005. Everyone looks great: Forster tall and a bit thorny, unable to rest until every angle of conversational possibility has been mined, bassist Adele Pickvance half solid-state worker and half fan disbelieving of her luck at being onstage with her favorite songwriters, drummer Glenn Thompson keeping everything in order.
And McLennan, short, bald, seemingly always lost in thought. If you noticed Robert first, Grant’s were the one whose tunes you went away humming--for days. In his quiet way he was the group’s seeker. On Oceans Apart, he got downright metaphysical: “What would you do if you turned around and saw me beside you/Not in a dream, but in a song/Would you float like a phantom or would you/Sing along?/Don’t know where I’m going/Don’t know where it’s flowing/But I know it’s finding you.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more disarming lyric about music--its power, its reach across generations and distance, its malleability, its acuity. The minute I heard it, I fell as completely in love with the Go-Betweens as had so many of friends, colleagues, fellow listeners. "No Reason to Cry" was the song I returned to over and over after first arriving in New York a couple months ago, uncertain of everything (where I was going to live, what exactly my new job would entail, what precisely I stood to benefit from leaving my previous life behind) and feeling utterly alone. It's one of the most empathetic songs I've ever heard--and in that category, one of the most unfussy.
That Striped Sunlight Sound is a surprisingly--gratifyingly--durable album-as-album. Like all live CDs it’s for fans first, but that isn’t hard here. What is hard is the idea of listening to it again, or even more so, watching the DVD, now that Grant has died. I only became a Go-Betweens fan, a real one, a year ago, and I have a lot to learn about them. But I’m grateful I became one--that I heard what is there, with my own ears--when he was still around for me to see and hear in person.