There’s something about the Philharmonic Hall that makes you acutely aware of the history it wears within its façade. It’s late Art Deco in design, all curving forms and sweeping horizontal lines, with nautical elements reflecting the maritime history of the city. It seems the perfect venue for me to see JOHN GRANT for the first time, a venue as baroque and grandiose as the man himself.
Opening for John Grant, Icelandic artist SOLEY holds the room captivated with her lo-fi acoustic and electronic compositions. The stage is huge, designed to accommodate orchestras, large bands and productions, yet she stands alone in the darkness, a spotlight her only company, and utterly beguiles the growing audience.
Moving from acoustic guitar to keyboards her songs are nuanced and passionate. Intricate electronics punctuate her strong and steady voice. Evoking the delicate introspection of Suzanne Vega with the experimentalism of Björk, she weaves songs of love, loss and isolation. Her charm and affable interactions with the audience endear her further. Physically, she doesn’t fill the stage but her presence and music certainly occupy the space comfortably, imbuing the performance with a sense of intimacy.
This sets up the entrance of John Grant and tendrils of anticipation arc across the auditorium as the intro to his latest album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, echoes throughout the darkening space. The band take their places and to huge cheers the man himself strides on stage, casual, bearded and beaming.
John Grant is a fine exponent of angst-ridden songwriting, explored variously on his previous two albums to much critical acclaim. On his latest record, he combines all he has learnt to produce perhaps his most balanced release to date.
Opening with three tracks from this latest album, Grant immediately hits his stride. Geraldine is huge in melody with sweeping, epic chords that boom and reverberate around the auditorium. Down Here perfectly showcases Grant’s warm croon, resembling a baritone Rufus Wainwright. His voice soars above the huge washes of instrumentation in the mighty title track, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. The achingly beautiful Marz haunts the space and the rock balladry of It Doesn’t Matter To Him burns with volatile emotion. Grant interacts with the band, engaging with each one during and between songs. There is a real sense of reverie on stage.
Electro funk-heavy tracks like Pale Green Ghosts, Snug Slacks and Guess How I Know have Grant grooving, moving with feline-like ease, hips swaying and head nodding. The set has kinetic energy, not only exploding from the speakers and rattling the air but pouring out of the man on stage.
Glacier, Queen Of Denmark and GMF steer the set back into melancholic territory, showcasing Grant’s deft ability to change gear in a heartbeat. It has been a virtuoso performance and the audience cheer their approval. After a short pause the band re-take the stage and perform a 30-minute encore to wrap up what has been an extraordinary performance of poise, skill and artistry. Grant and his band receive a standing ovation and the audience are left awestruck at what they have witnessed.
Mike Stanton / @DepartmentEss