I was lucky enough to see John Grant (above) perform last Thursday night in Birmingham at the HMV Institute Library. He was incredible. His current album, ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ is pretty much all that I have listened to since it was released, often at the sort of volume that makes the mirrors on your car shake as I’ve whizzed along the motorway (the album came with a bonus CD of 6 remixes of three of the tracks that I have particularly loved with their heavy retro club feel). Hearing the songs performed live, playing all eleven of the albums tracks, with his terrific Icelandic backing band was incredibly powerful, especially the really loud fat, squelchy bass of the new electronic material, which made your whole body vibrate right to the core. At the centre of this was Grant himself, warm and funny, and sometimes sad, between songs, before giving the most intense performances of almost any artist I’ve seen. He has a tremendously rich, timbered voice that reaches all sorts of places most singers could never reach on songs that really left me struck by their originality. As a songwriter he has great melodic gifts that reference all sorts of things musically, but his funny, bitter, twisted, dark and deeply personal lyrics are what really make him really stand apart. The encore was largely made up of songs from his debut ‘Queen of Denmark’ album, which I singled out as my favourite record of the year on this blog in 2010. It was great hearing these songs performed live- they had a more intimate quality, apart from the storming title track, which just blew the lid off the place with its crunching guitar crescendos. Great fun.
I think the new album definitely has the edge on the debut. It seems more original and a better realization of Grant’s influences from what I have read in recent interviews. In interview he is also very candid about his troubled psyche, both past and present, with problems with addiction, dealing with his homosexuality, and more recently his diagnosis as HIV positive. Still, he describes how ‘I still feel a childlike wonder in the world. I’m like a cockroach. No matter how many times I’m crushed I still get back up’. I can get that.
The support band were great too. Not one to stereotype, but as soon as they walked on with their slightly unusual haircuts and funny boots tucked in skin tight trousers, all cheek bones, I clocked them and thought they must be from Iceland. Indeed, Asgeir Trausti (above) and his band were Icelandic, and played some wonderful Bon Iver with more synthesizers like songs that I’ve been enjoying ever since having bought the album on the way out, my ears still ringing, a big ear to ear smile on my face from what had been a truly memorable night…