‘X’ marked the spot at grandson’s two sold-out El Rey shows

The packed El Rey Theatre was the site of not one but two sold-out shows over the weekend for Canadian-American alternative-rock singer/rapper grandson. The show kicked off his North American Death of a Tour, which very much felt like an insider industry event combined with superfans, decked out in various rockstar attire, eye liner and boots converging for an artist who is clearly on the cusp of blowing up. The Mid-City venue was grandson’s return to the LA region for the first time in three years. And really a lot has changed in the world, with his music (including two songs on the Suicide Squad soundtrack) and collabs with fellow Canadian Jessie Reyez plus Kesha, Travis Barker, K. Flay and X Ambassadors.

The night of rebellious rock music (with the occasional sensitive moment) was also highlighted by a super-pumped slate of openers including buzzing New Jersey/LA-based alternative singer-songwriter Royal and The Serpent, Queens, NY alternative hip-hop band Oxymorrons and LA grunge-rockers Beauty School Dropout. There was screaming, sweating, lots of baggy pants and hair everywhere.

Beauty School Dropout kicked the night off with their lively grunge-rock tunes and brought out Royal and The Serpent’s Ryan Santiago for “Starphucker”. Oxymorrons, consisting of hilarious brother vocalists Demi (“Deee”) and Kami (“KI”) Bellevue, pig-tailed drummer Matty Mayz and bassist/guitarist Jafe Paulino kept the energy high for their own brand of hip-hop-infused punk-rock. The bros poked fun at one another during the set and shared the story of their “two RRs” because a lesser-known band with the same name (one R) wanted $25,000 for the use. They very amusingly taught the crowd their chant, “Twos Rs, not one!” in between playing the entertaining, anthemic “Pretty People”, with Kami in a Space Jam t-shirt and Deee in oversized flower power hippie jeans. They also made an impression with the rock/hip-hop hybrids “Definition” and “Justice”.

Royal and the Serpent
Royal and the Serpent

Royal and the Serpent and her band took the stage, flooded in red for the 90s-tinged indie-rock song “i can’t get high” with crazy high energy, hair flips and Santiago all over the stage, while guitarist Brent Burdett head-banged nonstop. Santiago didn’t let up on the shenanigans on “GO PHUCK URSELF”, with a magnetic stage presence and alluring vocals, proving time and time again that she’s a masterful instigator for the stage. “PHUCKBOI REJECTS” offered punk-rock angry rocker girl vibes for a new era.

Santiago sang her face off (and in moments sounded like Avril Lavigne) on another lively tune “I Don’t Even Like You”, a tune that sounds like it was plucked right out of the When We Were Young Festival pop-punk era. One of the set’s highlights was “Better”, a tune that 20 years may have sounded like a whiny pissed-off brat, but in the age of mental health awareness, its speaks to a generation about being an outcast. Santiago is helping to usher in a new wave of rock & roll and pop-punk, spinning around on “Better”, jumping in place and climbing on the drum set by the end of the song with her hand up to the ceiling.

Her lyrics teeter on cautionary yet playful and humorous at times, like on the song “IM NOT SORRY”: “Don’t know if I’ll make it til tomorrow, without losing my marbles” and “Hey, I’m fucking insane, I should be on medication, but my doctor’s on vacation”. The hands swayed in the air on the lyric “Hey, it’s a beautiful day, to be an asshole” during this crazy, amazing ballad.

“Hi everybody, it’s really cool to see your faces”, said Santiago to her fans. “You’re the first to hear a new song, you’re the taste testers”. She slowed it down for “Happier in Hell”, an introspective song finding the frontwoman in her deconstructed white shirt on stage, arms up and the spotlight shining while making an impact on the vocal. She grabbed her guitar and the band joined in mid-song. An unexpected and thrilling cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” got the whole place singing and Santiago did it justice.

Santiago encouraged moshing for the next song “EAT SPIT!”, a Slush Puppy cover while the stage went red. After the song she said, “Live music is back, baby!” Royal and The Serpent wrapped with her popular tune “overwhelmed”, fully embodying the song like the performance artist that she is.


grandson entered the stage with his signature curls (emblazoned on his silhouetted logo) and looked at the crowd menacingly, saying “LA, how the fuck are we feeling?” He held a glass of beer on the first song “6:00”, holding his fingers to his head like a gun for the aggressive tune about the horrors of the media and America. He danced frantically to the hard rock guitars, sing-rapped “shot in the chest, hashtag, bodybag” and threw the contents of his cup all over the crowd.

Guitarist Ramón Blanco and drummer David Rehmann killed on the electronic rap/rock hybrid “Darkside”, showcasing fiery stage presence from grandson as he sang and rapped on the beat-heavy song. grandson made a statement with his anti-drug anthem “Overdose” with screeching guitar and thrashing drums as Rehmann whipped his hair. Newspaper clippings flashed on the red and white screen with reminders that Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Farley and others  died of addiction.

“Make some noise for the openers,” said grandson. “Make some noise for motherfucking me”. The crowd went crazy. “I haven’t played a show here since 2019 and it’s almost like nothing has happened in that time”. grandson told everyone to treat one another with respect because you never know what someone is going through and he continued the show in his baggy white pants adorned with green and blue globes.

grandson mentioned moshing to his fans ahead of “Best Friends”, an exciting Southern rock-leaning guitar head-bopper, with the perfect blend of rock and rap, like one of your favorite Linkin Park songs. The crowd moshed more for “Apologize”, another Southern rock ditty, with the guitar and drums generating noise that sounded like there were definitely more than two musicians on the stage. “Dirty” continued the fan commotion, with its somewhat rockabilly instrumentation and horns on the recording. [Sign us up when grandson returns with live horns!] “Sometimes I make songs like those that make me feel invincible”, said grandson. “But I doubt it, especially over the past two years and what’s going on with those poor people fighting for their freedom”.

The electronic-rock song “Kult” (recorded with Steve Aoki) was next with its crazy mad circus vibes, especially at the exact drop when grandson says “Now!” “Bury Me Face Down” was done via vocoder with grandson at the front of the stage with the spotlight on him. Badflower lead singer Josh Katz joined grandson for the Jessie Reyez-featured “Rain” (theme song from Suicide Squad), with the guys facing one another and smiling during the smash hit. Blooming flowers flashed on screen juxtaposed with rain exposing the powerful message in the lyric “I do not mind the rain sometimes, ’cause that’s the only way the roses bloom”.

grandson took the acoustic guitar for “The Ballad of G and X”, showcasing his vocals and veering into a completely new direction for the remainder of the show. The frontman left the stage for a minute or so while a robotic voice floated over the sound system and the performance was officially split into two Jekyll & Hyde halves. grandson was back on stage in a gray suit and black tie as “X”, a little possessed during “Identity”, playing up the character and sounding like Eminem in moments.

He still looked possessed and spit some crazy rhymes on the loud rager “WWIII”, evoking a blend of twenty one pilots, Linkin Park and Eminem on the hard rock song. The X character was almost fully formed but first he had to smear black makeup around his eyes, timed well to the the bombastic beats on “Despicable”, one of the best of the night. The song skews electronic and the huge sound combined with the production energy kept the crowd moshing on the middle of the floor. Another beast of a song followed, “We Did It!!!” as well as the swagger of “Oh No!!!”. grandson played “Stick Up” with his band with guitarist Blanco playing his instrument on the back of his neck at one point.

For the encore, grandson & Co. played the driving “Stigmata” and said, “That’s it, that’s Death of a Tour”. He acknowledged a fan in the crowd who flew thousands of miles to be there, expressed his appreciation for those tuning in to the many livestreams over the past couple years and noted that his first album dropped during the pandemic. His music clearly made an impact during lockdown and at the El Rey, with grandson ending with “Blood // Water”, throwing bottles of water to fans. The guitar squealed, the drums crushed and grandson got into the crowded moshpit by the end and basically got lost in the strobe-lit madness.

All photos by Timothy Aarons