Photography: Darren Aston

John Grant

Philharmonic Hall 4/2/19

JOHN GRANT wears his heart on his sleeve. With his solo albums he settles scores, tells stories of heartbreak and recounts anecdotes of life which resonate universally. This could all present him as belligerent and bitter. Yet, pull together his storytelling skills, copious amounts of humour and breathtaking melodies, and on paper you have the type of artist that would grab the attention of anyone. Not least anyone with half an interest in humanity or music. Live, though, it’s raised to a whole other level.

Grant performs with a mix of brutal honesty and an awareness of the theatricality of his performance, as seen from the first song, the mesmeric Tempest. He’s warm, engaging and incredibly funny, both in his lyrics and off the cuff. These lyrics, which are a mix of beautiful sensitivity and laugh out loud filth, mean you’re never left in any doubt what he thinks; apposite references mean he easily finds his target and hits it square on.

“His voice is just beautiful. Not so much that of an angel, but of one of the fallen ones who’s seen a fair bit of trouble along the way”

The Philharmonic Hall as a setting for the gig is an interesting choice. Its pared back Art Deco curves are at odds with the spiky electro-rock music and at first it feels like there should be more movement. It is rather static, aside from the thirsty sneaking out to the bar, but it soon shows itself to be a wonderful choice: the audience being seated means that, despite the vast space, the gig takes on a more intimate feel and the performance is personal. And anyway, Grant’s got the moves for us, at some points busting out some swaying that could be termed as dancing. A great bear of a man in his baseball cap and boots, with a brash sensitivity and a charming awareness of his audience, Grant swaps between playing keyboard and taking centre stage in front on the mic wielding it with rock-star intent.

It’s a mix of theatre and raw honesty with his foul-mouthed lyrical tirades and tales of love and loss. The light show is incredible; strobes and lasers match the upbeat electro-synth driven rock and focus in on Grant for the more mellow and reflective songs such as Metamorphosis.

His voice is just beautiful. Not so much that of an angel, but of one of the fallen ones who’s seen a fair bit of trouble along the way; it’s strong and mesmerising and what strikes you is its purity and power. It ranges from the staccato of Black Belt to the soaring vocals of TC And Honeybear. Over the course of the two-hour gig (this is a man intent on giving us value for money), it maintains its clarity, resonating and soaring around the hall.

John Grant Image 2

The “badass band” to which Grant refers is just that – tight knit and talented. There’s a warmth on stage, a feeling this is a happy band of troupers. He refers to songs he wrote in Eric Pulido’s house, tonight’s support act. Pulido comes back on stage to accompany Grant on Sigourney Weaver during the encore.

The majority of the songs come from 2018’s Love Is Magic, with all but one of the songs on the album making it on to the set list. Is He Strange and He’s Got His Mother’s Hips are met with cheers. The majestic title track is saved for the encore. Older songs such as Glacier see some of the audience sing along word for word in elation.

At the end, Grant’s as fresh as when he nonchalantly walked on stage. He holds the audience in his thrall throughout. At the end of Outer Space, the fourth track of the encore, when it’s all finally over, the audience are on their feet with quite a few rushing to the front wanting to shake hands with the great, gregarious charmer. He seems thrilled with how warm a reception he receives. He’s a performer who knows how to play his audience, how to get to get every emotion from them. We leave feeling elated. John Grant is wonderful and certainly one of a kind.

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