John Grant @ Symphony Hall, 16th August 2018

With a new album set for release, John Grant played a one-off indoor show in-between some festival dates, and it was also a one-off as being the first standing gig to be held at the prestigious Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Regular visitors will know the venue is all-seated, indeed, all sumptuous seated, but for tonight the stalls section has been boarded over to create a standing area, and what a superb job has been done. At the back is a raised section for wheelchair users and also the mixing desk. Will this be a future feature at the venue? Who knows.

Now, at this point I must mention I’m quite a fan of John Grant; I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country to see him, and I refer to him as my ‘go to’ guy when I’m having a difficult time. For example, when my wonderful Mum died, it was John Grant’s music I reached for, and it was his Warwick gig that was the first live music I saw following her passing. Tonight, is equally soothing, for I recently lost a beloved dog, Neddy, and again it was John Grant who helped me cope, and it’s almost fate this gig, again is the first live music I’ve seen since losing my wonderful Neddy. I digress, and I’m sure you just want to read about the show, so here goes.

John has been a busy man recently, from the support slots on the Elbow tour earlier this year, he was also involved in the excellent Creep Show album, Mr. Dynamite, and of course he has been recording his new album to be released in October. As a teaser lead single “Love is magic” has been released, and is played tonight, the only new song in the set and it shows an even heavier electronic sound. John has said “each record I make is more of an amalgamation of who I truly am, the more I do this the more I trust in myself and the further along I go”.

So, the set was, in my opinion, truly a one-off, pulling some songs rarely heard live, and with reworkings of other songs. Opening by simply walking on to the side-lit stage (no overhead lighting tonight) John begins by thanking everyone for coming and looking so wonderful, and by telling us he recently turned 50, and spent time back home in America riding roller-coasters. He also thanks several people in the audience, including a friend of mine, Andy. How do you get a name-check??

And so we begin, “You don’t have to” a simple, beautiful song that builds, with now permanent drummer Budgie, poised, in his gloves, to kick in. Straight into “Outer Space”, a rare outing for this gem and then crowd favourite “Marz”. Maybe it’s because of the long preamble before the first song, but there’s little in-between song chat tonight, but then again the set is limited to 90 minutes, which let’s be honest is never going to be long enough to quench our thirst.

“Grey Tickles Black Pressure” is almost a solo performance, stripped back, showing what a talent John Grant is, just his booming voice, with immense keyboard skills. Listening to the lyrics I think we can all relate at some point to the meaning of this song, well for those of us of a certain age.

Another rare outing comes in the form of “It’s Easier” and then of course we enter the home straight, “GMF” with backing vocals of 1500, this was, some could argue, the song which helped establish John in the UK, the acerbic wit of the song, but also the true honesty, and having met him once (to date) I would agree he really is a great mother fu***r.

“Love is magic” easily slots into the set, and is heavier synth based, perfectly followed by “Pale Green Ghosts”, with the venue being lit by strobes. It really is a magnificent sight. Then we have “Glacier”, and again the hairs on my neck stand up, I have goose bumps, he’s done it again. He gets me every time, this song does something to me, it reaches some part in me, and with recent events in my life the tears flow. As I said, John Grant is my ‘go to’ guy, for reasons like this. I would like to try and explain to him one day, but I think he already knows. I really do.

So, with a wipe of the eyes, we have, all too soon, reached the end of the set, and “Queen of Denmark” again shows his magnificent wit, where he “accidently pissed in your coffee”.

The band leave and trying to guess what the encore would be, we have no chance, as we are side-swiped. Tonight’s support act, Cate Le Bon takes the lead vocal on a cover of “Torn between two lovers”, with a guitar backing, and John on chorus backing vocals. It is brilliant. Having seen his superb and respectful covers of the Scott Walker songs at the BBC Proms last year, and hearing tonight’s cover, could we dare to hope a covers album may be in the offing?? Or even an EP?

The gig closer is another moment of beauty, “Vietnam”, solo on the keyboard. The tenderness in his voice is incredible, and at times you could hear a pin drop. Yet another wonderful evening. Thank you John, truly.

I’ve championed John Grant for some years to friends, and I struggle to understand how anyone could not be enraptured by him and his music. But for those still not converted, there are more dates coming up later this year, to promote the ‘Love is Magic’ album. He then goes stateside for some dates and fingers crossed back to the UK in 2019 for a longer tour.

Love is Magic is released by Bella Union on the 12th October and I can’t wait.

Further live dates are

29th October Brighton Dome

30th October Brixton Academy

31st October Bath Forum

2nd November Sheffield Octagon

3rd November Manchester Albert Hall

Set List

You don’t have to

Outer Space

Marz

Grey Tickles Black Pressure

Global Warming

TC and the Honey bear

It’s easier

GMF

Love is magic

Pale Green Ghosts

Glacier

Queen of Denmark

Torn between two lovers (with Cate Le Bon)

Vietnam

 

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