John Grant is a towering presence on stage tonight. Clad in a beanie and baggie jeans he looks more hip hop than serenading singer songwriter, but twisting conventions is what Grant does best. Formerly of alt-rock band The Czars, John Grant does pretty well for himself these days as a solo artist and found himself on many critic’s end of year lists with last year’s stellar ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. On tour he is backed by his band of mostly Icelandic musicians (where Grant now resides) with one member hailing from Coventry. Grant takes the time to introduce them all, describing his guitarist as “slicker than an eel’s vagina”.
His jovial demeanor between songs acts in stark contrast to his lyrical content and he knows the light relief is welcome. Opening with ‘You Don’t Have To (Pretend To Care)’ which is laced with lyrics like “Remember when the tenderness stopped, And the kindness turned to pity and disgust”, we know we’re in you’re for an emotional ride from the offset. It sounds spectacular though, the sadness of the lyrics sung against an aching electronic heartbeat. The crowd react ecstatically. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ from the same album sounds equally epic live, his voice sailing through the Dome with crystal clarity over the throbbing synthesizer backdrop.
The Colorado born songwriter has had his fair share of troubles and heartbreak and in 2012 he revealed onstage that he is HIV positive. In this context tracks like ‘Glacier’ hit incredibly hard; “This pain is a glacier moving through you” he sings over piano with devastating effect. You could hear a pin drop in the crowd until the band suddenly come alive at the finale and tear loose for the outro. It sounds absolutely enormous and wouldn’t go a miss on a David Attenborough special. Fans in the Dome are rapturous and Grant seems genuinely humbled.
The 46-year-old genre shapeshifter knows when to shift gears and in amongst the balladry is a 10 minute electro wig-out which has the Dome looking like a techno club in Eastern Europe. A couple of girls in front of us are pulling out their best robot moves and Grant is sliding around the stage with snake hips. The party continues with ‘GMF’ which Grant dedicates to the Brighton crowd of “greatest motherfuckers”. “You could be laughing 65% more of the time,” he sings over acoustic power pop that’s as life affirming as ‘Soft Bulletin’ era Flaming Lips. It’s a jubilant moment and the sound in the Dome is deafening.
The encore includes ‘Paint The Moon’ and ‘Angel Eyes’, the latter stripping things back again to Grant and the piano. Impossible not to root for, Grant lays all emotions bare tonight leaving a packed crowd at the Dome spellbound and awestruck. You get the feeling he knows he’s welcome here any time.
Brighton Dome, Friday 27th June 2014
Words by Andy Baker
Photos by Ashley Laurence