Startlingly beautiful
John Grant Live

John Grant is addictive. There’s no other way to put. His toffee thick vocals just engulf your whole being when he sings and you can’t escape him. You just want more and more.

That’s what makes his gig in London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire so startlingly beautiful. Joined by a string quartet and ‘Chris’, who switches piano and synth with Grant throughout the night, Grant’s audience was putty in his palm. He could use and abuse us tonight, we wouldn’t care, as long as we could hear him sing. Luckily, Grant was a peach. He opened with a new number – so new it was ‘something I was working on in the car’!

After apparently struggling with a bit of an illness on the earlier dates of this sell out tour, the night continued with genuine concern from one crowd-goer. ‘How you felling John?’. Sweet. He is feeling much better, thank God, and showed he was a picture of health with another new number from his forthcoming second album – exciting! – and blerting out almost all tracks from his solo debut, Queen of Denmark, for the next hour and a half.

Tonight, Grant’s overwhelming Midlake influence was subtler than his album. Yes, there was the trademark warm and beautifully played piano, tonight using a baby grand, and yes, there is the Jeckle to his Hyde, the beyond-noisy synth fuzz, but that was pretty much it. No drums, no guitar, just the addition of the superb string quartet for a handful of very special numbers.

One of these special moments is Where Dreams Go To Die, a scathing attack on a relationship – as most of Grant’s songs are – but played with all the warmth and heart of a love song. The strings are as stunning as a Colin Blunstone song and every eye in the house was fixed on the stage, glazed with teariness.
Further tales of turbulent relationships and songs about Michigan has his audience in awe, as does his chat about living above sub woofer-loving car stereo fitters in Brooklyn and how he wrote songs about friends just to ‘say they were a bitch’. But, despite the chuckles, almost every tale has a dark side, just like his songs. A jolly rhythm doesn’t disguise some of the obvious heartache Grant has endured, but I guess that’s what makes his songs so capturing. Songs like Chicken Bones, JC Hates Faggots, Silver Platter Club and, of course, the album’s title track Queen of Denmark, possibly the most terrifyingly scathing song ever penned. It shows the best of Grant’s rage vented through his tender playing and vocals, so angelic until you hear such lines as ‘I hope you know all I want from you is sex’. So harsh, yet so, so glorious.

A real treat tonight is a few numbers from the Czars days – Grant’s pre-solo band, which never quite found success. There are some Czars fans in the room who lapped up such songs as L.O.S and Little Pink House, but most of the cheers and applause were for Grant’s own work. But before this latter was played to close the show, Grant wows his audience and moves us to tears with Caramel, one of the most beautiful from the album and definitely one of the most beautiful tonight. His soothing voice singing a love song without an undercurrent of pain or rage is like being submerged in a bath of loveliness. I could have easily sat there and listened for another hour and half.

Words by Gemma Hampson


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