Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

John Grant – The Roundhouse, London 09/03/14

12 March 2014, 11:00 | Written by

A casual observer, walking into the Camden Roundhouse tonight, may have been forgiven for thinking they’d accidentally gate-crashed the Annual Convention for Hirsutely Countenanced Gentlemen. Of course, you’d expect to witness a certain proportion of facial hair at a London gig venue, but this was truly next-level stuff; not quite up to Woodstock standards, but certainly averaging at least 0.5 of a Sam Beam.

If our hypothetical observer had not been intimidated by all this follicular grandeur, he (or she) may have noticed that John William Grant, a 45 year old baritone-voiced American and star of tonight’s event, was himself rocking a particularly fulsome and commendable beard. However, it’s more likely they would have been too entranced by one of the most intriguing singer-songwriters of recent times to notice.

Facial hair aside, what strikes you immediately about John Grant is how assured he is as a performer. He knows how to charm an audience without going full-on Wayne Coyne; he’s succinct, humorous, a little bit risqué (at one point he teaches us the Icelandic phrase for “I have a chubby”). He’s not the kind of artist who leaps around the stage like a deranged beast; in fact he’s rather mannered in his movement, but that’s certainly not to say that he’s lacking in passion. Indeed, John Grant is not a man restrained by any conventional concepts of “coolness”. He un-ironically wears his emotions on his sleeve, which in a world where cynicism is de rigeur, is quite the refreshing thing.

His lyrics are often brutally honest, profound and personal, drawing on his experiences with drugs, alcohol and his sexuality, yet he’s not above pop-culture references or patent nonsense either – he even admits at one point that absurdity lies at the heart of his oeuvre. His songs are infused with wit and amusing detail, but there’s also a strong sense of naivety and vulnerability; think Morrissey without the draining self-pity.

His ear for melody is also strong, if sometimes a little conservative; a couple of the lesser tracks played in the first of the set verged on middle-of-the-road blandness but are thankfully the exception rather than rule. The visceral, deliciously bass-heavy “Pale Green Ghosts” is an early highlight, injecting some well-needed energy into a lethargic Sunday-night audience, but is overshadowed by “That’s The Good News”, where Grant is seemingly possessed by Kraftwerk and becomes commensurately more awesome.

However, even that is surpassed by the final two songs of the main set- the deeply powerful and dramatic “Glacier”, concerning the long and painful struggle of the gay rights movement, and “Queen of Denmark”, arguably his funniest and most anthemic work. Although their tone is considerably different, both songs showcase John Grant at his best- incisive, amusing, dramatic and emotionally unrestrained. He’s a special talent indeed (and of course, great beard).

Photo by: Burak Cingi. See the full gallery here.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next