John Grant: turning 'squelchy' on the synths up to 11Miles Ricketts

I can’t believe that I’ve considered taking my own life, ‘Cause I believed the lies about me were the truth.” Yes, seeing a couple bounce around to that is disconcerting. That’s the tension at the heart of appreciating the music of John Grant, whose current ethos appears to be, ‘party through the pain.’ Unflinching honesty inveigles its way into sugary sweet melodies and minimalist techno.

Grant still has his demons, but his confessions betray that they are now his to exploit

An example, concerning Grant’s lament for missing out on the hedonistic heyday of New York: “I could have gotten a head start in the world of disease, I’m sure I would have contracted every single solitary thing.” From a man who was brave enough to publicly announce his diagnosis as HIV positive on stage, I’m still in doubt as to whether this music is truly okay to blithely dance to. Where John Grant wins out is in his genuinely glowing presence. A charming host who breaks out a devilishly sly grin on cheekily waspish takedowns of former and imagined lovers, he does everything to put you at ease.

You could even go so far as to say the evening was a celebration. Supported by the man he credits with coaxing him out of “creative retirement”, Midlake’s Eric Pulido, Grant blows kisses at an old friend, and to a moment when things could have gone very differently. 2010’s Queen of Denmark was Grant’s solo debut, a record born from years of alcoholism, drug abuse and depression that accompanied his tenure in The Czars. Call it a personal comeback, that was to be followed by his next two albums’ wider critical and commercial success (at least here in the UK, where we once again demonstrate our affection for neglected American songwriters).

Sat in his true habitat, at the pianoMiles Ricketts

Grant still has his demons, but his confessions betray that they are now his to exploit. This is particularly the case with the cuts from last year’s Love Is Magic. On ‘Preppy Boy’, he playfully struts the frontier of the stage while weaving a tale of flirtations that culminates in a gleefully smug victory dance. Over the course of over two hours, there’s quite a lot of this sardonic posturing over occasionally exhausting squelchy synths.

His eyes are surrounded by a generous splash of glittery warpaint, leaking down to a luxurious tapestry of facial hair

The irony is that during the blurry years of The Czars, Grant wrote some of the most affecting songs of the last twenty years. It’s a real shame he doesn’t air any of this unjustly overlooked material this evening, especially when the set hits a low during the confusing vaudevillian ramble of ‘Metamorphosis’. An achingly beautiful ballad writer, Grant’s electronic diversions grow weaker with each record. “The more I do this, the more I trust myself, and the closer I get to making what I imagine in my head,” he revealed recently. Again, a shame.

But this was a man on the brink of self-destruction. A child of the Midwest forced to suppress his burgeoning gay identity against an aggressively unreceptive upbringing. As on the stark and moving ‘Glacier’, “What they want is commonly referred to as theocracy, And what that boils down to is referred as hypocrisy.” The John Grant of The Czars buried his anxiety under the guise of melancholy. Guilt and emotional turmoil bubbled under the surface of some admittedly enchanting tunes. Now he is let loose.


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Here he is warning, “Don't you pay them fuckers no mind.” His eyes surrounded by a generous splash of glittery warpaint, leaking down to a luxurious tapestry of facial hair that Grant has admitted was originally a vulnerable attempt to convince others of his member status in machodom. Always seeing the funny side, Grant now proudly sells a line of beard wax.

We know of John Grant the songwriter, he’s been around for years. His smooth baritone on Love Is Magic highlight ‘Is He Strange’ is a soothing reminder of his talent for memorable ballads. Tonight, however, was more notable as a touching showcase for John Grant the performer. It may have taken a while to get here, but Grant looks happier than ever - and that's something worth celebrating with him.

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