As John Grant returned to the scene of of a past triumph, Getintothis’ Adam Lowerson found himself in awe of his vast, powerful sounds.
How do you improve on something that was already perfect? This was the dilemma facing John Grant tonight who returned to the Philharmonic Hall for the second time in just over a year, the scene of his triumphant night performing alongside the Royal Northern Sinfonia. A night which was, if not perfect, pretty darn close to being so.
Since then Grant has grown from somewhat of a cult hero into an unlikely star, being nominated for Brit Awards, headlining festivals such as End of the Road and selling out tours left right and centre. The release of his third LP in Grey Tickles, Black Pressure back in 2015 has seen his stock rise even higher, despite not quite getting the industry wide acclaim of his previous two efforts, Queen of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts. Tonight however, it really comes to life.
Opening with a trio from the new record in Geraldine, Down Here and title track Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, the benchmark was set unbelievably high from just the first couple of bars. Each track a cavernous, expansive pop symphony with gorgeous, soaring melodies showing off Grant‘s warm vocals. Even this time without the orchestral backing, the sound is huge.
Anyone that has followed John Grant and his music throughout his career will be well aware of his struggles with inner demons, built up anger about a past relationship and his general self deprecating nature at times. His lyrics have always had that bit of bite, dark humour and sarcasm within every verse. That’s still there of course, but it definitely seems to be coming from a much happier place. Everything about Grant down to the way he moves on stage suggests someone that is finally completely comfortable in his own skin, and it is quite moving to see.
On his more 80s inspired, electronic tracks like Disappointing and Snug Slacks he dances and struts around the stage with confidence and attitude and without a care in the world. The whole show is visually quite something, with it being pretty much backlit throughout, Grant and his four band mates jet black silhouettes against the glowing backdrop, while their giant shadows danced up the towering walls of the Philharmonic. It looked as good as it sounded.
Fan favourites like GMF, It Doesn’t Matter To Him and Marz are real standouts and glowing examples of Grant‘s talent as a songwriter. He’s got a wonderful way with melody, and certain chord sequences and half steps in the tune can really knock you for six. This is helped of course by his voice, which at times is simply stunning. Especially on Caramel, which he plays alone on the piano, bringing the room to a complete stunned silence to close the set.
For some, this writer included, it couldn’t really have gotten any better than the night with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. But somehow tonight was. Whether it’s because the songs from his new record have brought balance to the set and plugged some of the weaker gaps in the track list, or it’s Grant‘s new found confidence that has given it the edge, the sound feels more refined and every song performed feels like a real moment. The balance between the ballads and electro-pop tracks is spot on, and the whole night feels like the complete performance.
Maybe perfect would be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly isn’t far off.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.