Through the howling rain The Queen Elizabeth Hall beckons, its grandiose architecture the perfect setting for the folk infused pop sensibilities of the Denver born John Grant. Having almost given up on the world of music as the frontman of The Czars, the perennial outsider was convinced by Midlake to record a solo album. Released last April, The Queen of Denmark is one of the most sincere and stunning records this year has produced, and having missed prior shows at the Jazz Café and The Roundhouse it is with great excitement that await this evenings performance.
As seats fill, the auditorium appears to almost bulge at the seams. As the lights dim, Grant emerges from the shadows stage right to rapturous applause. The magnetic and seemingly confident figure that stands in front of us this evening is one that has battled with serious self-confidence issues, drug addictions, prejudice and depression. Dealing with the rock bottom moments of his life, Grant’s performance this evening and indeed his entire emotional, melodramatic oeuvre are informed by a wry wit and an endearing, self-deprecating humour.
And even though his own insecurities are something he discusses rather candidly with the audience this evening, his humour is often delivered with a self-assured, cheeky grin. Soon after the resonating keys of album highlight ‘Sigourney Weaver’ ring out and the humble timbre of Grant’s voice has gently swelled forth from behind the grand piano that sits mid-stage, he takes a moment to look up and say: “I’ve been promised panties would be thrown at me this evening, so step up to the plate people!”
The crowd interaction this evening is simply fantastic, as Grant introduces nearly every song he plays with the tale of how it came to be: “This one is about a sweet shop I visited as a kid, I’ll always remember that smell” he reminisces before delving into the rich hazy pop melody of ‘I Wanna Go To Marz.’ Stringing kitsch lyrics together in rapid succession, the infectious verses are followed by sweeping strings that soar over Grant’s deep baritone vocals.
Without the vast instrumental intricacies of Texan folksters Midlake this evening, Grant relies classical violinist Fiona Brice and Midlake keyboardist Jesse Chandler for a more stripped back aesthetic to accompany his delivery. As his soft country vocals howl on the self-pitying, inferiority complex battling number ‘Silver Platter Club’ the rhythm and vocals falter. Attempting the song again to encouraging laughter and cheers, he falters once more only to fling his arms in the air in triumph, to the jubilation of an enamoured crowd. It seems he still has a few things to work out composition wise when it comes to playing live, but this evening’s performance is breathtaking, honest, heartbreaking and yet still continuously playful.
He dedicates ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ to the Travel Lodge in Kings Cross, regales us with his lonely thanksgiving in ‘Chicken Bones’ and hunches over the piano once more for the arrestingly bitter self-loathing of ‘Queen of Denmark.’ As the tender ‘TC and Honeybear’ rolls off his tongue the smoke machine’s clouds are tinged by a blue light and seem to be dancing as they envelope the stage. Indulging in his predilection for his synthesiser he plays his album favourite ‘Caramel’ before invoking one of the strongest crowd reactions this evening by playing ‘JC Hates Faggots’ and discussing how wrong it is that things still haven’t changed.
Returning for an encore with Smoke Fairies’ Jessica and Katherine on guitar Grant opts for The Czars number ‘Paint The Moon’ before closing with their cover of Connie and Francis’s ‘Where The Boys Are.’ His intense, smooth voice echoes against the gently swaying bass line, as he continues to mask the bitterest of raw emotions with a sincere belief that there is hope.