Live Review

John Grant, Sala Apolo, Barcelona

Grant holds everyone raptured, in the palm of his hand, for well over an hour.

John Grant is a very brave man. That much is obvious upon entering the faded ballroom splendour of Sala Apolo to be greeted by rows of chairs, a grand piano, and a solitary microphone. Not content with providing one of 2010’s most harrowing – and beguiling – break-up records, he’s hit the road without the sonic comfort blanket of Midlake (notwithstanding last months triumphant shows at the Royal Festival Hall), instead facing his audiences alone, centre stage, and with nowhere to hide. It’s perhaps a neat metaphor for his songs, which stripped away the layers to reveal a tortured, damaged soul, full of raw emotion and pain. It says everything that there is a hushed reverence in the room, more akin to a poetry reading than a concert, as if we don’t wish to alarm him lest he scuttle back to the shadows, scared and afraid.

We needn’t have worried. Looking relaxed and radiant, and opening with a joke, he immediately puts everyone at ease before launching into a couple of new tracks, the first of which is a particularly soulful ballad complete with fuzzy synth solo. It’s the first of many interesting flourishes he uses as, backed occasionally by Casey Chandler, they flit between piano, microphone and synth, like a revolving cabaret. It’s testament to his voice, and his musicianship, that none of the songs suffer from the unplugged treatment; if anything, they sound even better. ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ is emotional and heartfelt, while ‘Marz’ evokes a simpler, happier era, conjuring images of youth and innocence. Both ‘Outer Space’ and ‘It’s Easier’ feature neat little synth solos, and he’s even sensible enough to pause the emotional roller-coaster with a couple of old Czars numbers midway through.

Given the nature of the subject matter, it would be easy to veer off into the maudlin with this kind of set, but it’s to his credit that it never does. This is whisky music, soaked in a morose self-loathing, and yet the night is by turns uplifting, spine-chilling, and heart-warming in equal measure. ‘Queen Of Denmark’ is simply stunning, moving some to tears, and even Grant has a lump in his throat as he dedicates the poignant ‘Little Pink House’ to his late, beloved Grandmother. It’s telling though that he leaves us with the comically absurd prejudice of ‘JC Hates Faggots’, where he positively revels in the sarcasm of lines like “When we win the war on society / I hope your blind eyes will be opened and you’ll see”.

Grant is an unlikely hero, a survivor even, and while lyrically he steers clear of forgiveness hope, and the occasional dose of absurd humour, shine clear and bright, all delivered in that wonderfully rich baritone, like being wrapped in blood-red velvet. Eighteen long months on the road have sharpened his senses, and he holds everyone raptured, in the palm of his hand, for well over an hour. He’s the consummate professional, and in an era increasingly dominated by spin and fluff, a revelation. Whatever he does next, he’s proved that he belongs in every possible sense. A star has been born.

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