Saturday, November 14, 2015

Humour and Heartache

After five years of celebrated success since his debut solo album, Queen of Denmark, John Grant still seems to have a deep well of wounding experience to fuel his song writing. In Brighton last night - one of only two British dates this year to support new album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – he opened his set singing bitterly from the album’s title song: “they say let go let go let go, you must learn to let go, if I hear that fucking phrase again, this baby is gonna blow.” Whilst it was good to hear that the pain and anxiety of relationships is still present, that the humour endures was even more reassuring. And Grant’s ability to contextualise his misery – “there are children who have cancer, so all bets are off, ‘cause I can’t compete with that” – means that he is not guilty of the charge of self-pity.

Despite the abiding timbre of his material – the new album’s title is a mashed-up translation of Icelandic and Turkish proverbs meaning ‘mid-life crisis nightmare’ - Grant seems happy and relaxed on stage. He has a glint in his eye and tells the audience many times how pleased he is to be here. Dressed in a Piccadilly Records t-shirt and baggy jeans, he alternates between standing centre-stage and sitting at his piano next to fellow keyboard player, Chris Pemberton. And when he introduces his band, he is thrilled and honoured that he has an ex-Banshee on drums: “Yes, that is fucking Budgie!”

Having been released only a month ago, it is testament to the quality of the new album that the tracks played from it last night seemed so familiar. The simple, yet beautiful, Down Here has a glorious chord change into a chorus that laments, “what we got down here is oceans of longing, and guessing games and no guarantees”, and Snug Slacks, with its hilarious lyrical riff on Joan Baez, Joan As Policewoman and Angie Dickinson, sees Grant pursuing his love of mutant disco funk. The sumptuous Geraldine, the album’s closer, already sounds like one of Grant’s epic, sweeping ballads and the set’s final song is Disappointing, the recent Number 1 hit single in Grant’s adopted home country, Iceland. No More Tangles, another new classic, features as one of the five songs that make up the encore.

Not that the new material entirely dominates: 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts provides the expansive It Doesn’t Matter To Him, with its long and haunting synthesizer outro, Glacier and GMF. Grant’s voice is superb on these two remarkable songs and the title track of his debut album; and Queen of Denmark is made all the more dramatic for Pemberton’s blasts of discordant synthesizer that lead the band through the song’s histrionic crescendo. I last saw John Grant at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion in the spring of 2014 and I thought that performance could not be bettered; but at the Dome last night, he surpassed my expectations with a staggering two hour set full of humour and heartache.

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