It’s the last night of John Grantand he explains to the audience of the New Theater in Cardiff that he has a lot of Welsh action in his life right now. His last LP, Michigan boy, was produced by Cate Le Bon and it has ties to the city going back years – indeed, the video of ‘Chicken bones‘was partly shot at Bessemer Road Market and you can’t dig much deeper into the bowels of the naked city than that.
He played songs from the new album. They draw from memory, memories of the pains and sometimes glories of adolescence, memories rooted in a particular place at a particular time. The introduction to ‘Michigan boy‘, bathed in purple light and dry ice, ceremoniously sounds like the five tones of Close encounters, and the electronic elements that are always present in Grant’s music take center stage. For everything he says about a mythical America, it’s much more Skinny Puppy and Vince clarke than Springsteen Where Dylan, and it works. These new songs are serious and not sentimental, obviously taken from a very idiosyncratic psychic landscape. Her voice tonight is wonderful.
The concert was originally billed as an intimate performance with Grant and his longtime pianist, Chris Pemberton. For obvious reasons, this show didn’t take place last May, and in the meantime, he found himself with a new record to promote. To that end, he and Pemberton are joined by Cormac Curran on keyboards, guitars and saxophone.
From a grand piano he sings a song on “the art deco pink glow / from The Cruise Room‘, a defiance and farewell story set in a Denver hotel bar, of love that must last forever, but maybe not, and it looks good to note that I can’t think of a better place to see that stuff. The New Theater is a large old Victorian performance hall, all in ruins, old plaster, and shabby elegance. We have to look like the Muppet Show audience from the top of the stage. It’s just small enough to feel informal and the lighting emphasizes the tonight at the cabaret atmosphere. More concerts here please.
Next, we’re on the silly stuff. ‘Black belt‘ and ‘Rhetorical figure‘bang loud enough, allowing Grant to make a few hits. There is a real sense of conviction in his performance of material like this, very precisely undermining or dropping theatrically to his knees against the big shattering synth chords of ‘Rhetorical figure‘, and hit the song’s twisting lyrics and the song’s quick register changes. There is something very nice Gilbert and Sullivan about that.
There is a long essay to be written on how Grant uses his body in performance. He’s a bearish-looking masculine-looking guy – all beard and piercing eyes, you could imagine him easily pulling a chinook out with one swipe from his mighty front paw – and those camp touches say it all. about the characters and the stories it tells.
The heroic vein continues with ‘Gray tickling, black pressure‘, rearranged with great effect around a solo piano. It’s revealing – one of the first of the old favorites to appear tonight in a new form. Stripped of melody and words, the song builds towards its absurd chorus in a way that feels invigorated. Later in the show, ‘Queen of Denmark‘goes the other way. The familiar piano is gone, the backbone of the song is now a barely recognizable laconic and rhythmic squelching. The casual cruelty of a doomed relationship shines wonderfully (‘Hope you know all I want from you is sex / Being with someone who looks awesome in sportswear‘) until Curran’s guitar came in and took the song into a world of such misery and desperate rage that I was horrified enough beyond words. And I saw divine flesh at their peak.
The old material feels rested and restored. ‘Marz‘is still one of the nicest songs he has, and it has received a sparkling, synth-pop overhaul. Same ‘Sensitive guy from the new age‘, a song that I had never noticed much before, takes on a harder, more tragic dimension tonight. It is as if tonight we had suddenly had the courage to see, for the first time, deep in the painted eyes of her heroine.
‘Glacieris presented as a moment of comfort in the difficult times we are living through, a crumb of consolation against all the losses of the past year. ‘Glacier‘clearly broke free of his original context – a diatribe against the so-called religious right – and took on the sins of all our enemies. This chorus, his epic ascent into the mountains and his death is euphemistic, touches something in all of us tonight, completes us with these ‘precious minerals and other things‘. Grant’s voice again: he really has the most beautiful voice. There seems to be soaring in the words, through them and beyond, a life-changing wave of grief and dignity. ‘This pain is a glacier ‘ and you cannot doubt him. Stick-thin, cloth-capped Chris Pemberton on the piano plays it spectacularly, conveying a meandering climax of tracks and scales, crashing into waves of what feels like pure emotion.
As a reminder, the trio is joined on harmonies and guitar by the support number for the golden voice of this tour, Teddy thompson. They play impromptu versions of ‘TC and Honeybear‘ and ‘Sigourney weaver‘. belatedly, we learn that CT is for a newlywed couple in the circle. It’s very sweet that Grant seems to know half the audience tonight. There is applause and celebration.
‘Sigourney weaver‘I feel like it’s fair to me. Obviously, this is not really the case. NOTNonetheless, I admit that I still feel like Sigourney Weaver when she had to fight these aliens, sticking flamethrower after flamethrower on my grenade launcher. I’m sure John Grant knows that, but he has the good taste not to spoil the moment for these guys who just got married.
He plays them ‘Caramel‘too, and for a while we’re all newlyweds.
Grant closes the show with the inevitable ‘GMF ‘ and it’s hard to disagree. New songs sound like classics and old songs sound like new. Still an imposing presence live, tonight John Grant has the assurance of a great artist asserting and reveling in his power.