John Grant was back in town and Getintothis’ Rick Leach was nervous, but in the end, witnessed an artist at the top of his game.
John Grant was back in Liverpool.
Returning to the Philharmonic Hall once again with a fourth solo album, 2018’s Love Is Magic, under his belt, we wondered somewhat apprehensively in advance if he could repeat the highs of his previous outings.
Those earlier shows were rightly raved about and as we all know to our cost, we shouldn’t take things for granted. We shouldn’t assume one year’s artistic triumph can be replicated over and over again.
Having said that, Love is Magic, is well, magic.
We crossed our fingers, looked heavenwards and hoped.
Maybe it wasn’t just us who were slightly nervous; there was a keen sense of anticipation in a packed Philharmonic Hall as Grant stepped onto the stage. You could feel that everybody was rooting for him.
But really, there was no need for us to approach the show with a glass half-empty mindset.
He opened the gig with Tempest from the new album. Deep and woozy electronics, synths hammering away and that voice. Straight from the off, he had us in the palm of his hand.
Grant is, to say the least, a charismatic performer. He can shift between throwing disco shapes, stalking around the stage, owning the stage and the hall, humour and pathos, deep irony and heartfelt tenderness quite readily, sometimes even within one single song.
Yet we know this is not mere showbusiness stylings, nothing forced or rehearsed. We know this is the way he is. Honest and genuine. We don’t know how we know this, but we know it to be true.
He opens Global Warming from 2015’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure with ‘Here’s a song called Global Warming. The American view of global warming. I’m just worried about my complexion.’
Sardonic humour writ large, but we were captivated by a voice that sounds like an aged sherry cask used to mature the finest malt whiskey you could dream of. Deep and rich and sonorous. It’s something to luxuriate in.
The songs on Love Is Magic are, at first blush, electronic and dirty and fun, yet the more you hear them, you realise there’s a depth and a current to them. Something running beneath it all. Something serious.
There was always a risk that in a live context we’d miss that depth, but it still shone through on He’s Got His Mothers Hips and Smug Cunt. Yes, the fun element was to the fore, but it’s a measure of his song writing skills and the quality of his live band (including Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees fame) that the deeper quality was not lost.
We still had fun however.
— Deb James (@debjam) February 4, 2019
John Grant knows how to make an audience smile. Especially when he whipped out a cowbell and hammered away on it during Preppy Boy. Something to be treasured, cowbells.
The second half of what was a mammoth, over two hour set, included old fan favourites such as Pale Green Ghosts, TC and Honeybear and an immense version of Glacier: all strobes and dry ice and with a thunderous Wagnerian ending, Very apt considering we were in the Phil.
He encored with the classic Sigourney Weaver, bringing back onto stage the support act of Eric Pulido (of Midlake) to accompany him on vocals.
Pulido himself played a blinder of a set to warm up the crowd, all close harmonies and 1970’s singer-songwriter folky stylings and he was effusive in in praise of Grant throughout. Like us, you could sense he was a fan.
It all ended with a standing ovation. Grant and the band took bow after bow, shook hands with the audience and grinned.
We needn’t have worried. John Grant is a man at the top of his game. Still.
Images by Getintothis’ Warren Millar