Friday, February 05, 2016


Cambridge Corn Exchange 3rd February 2016

It's a testament to how John Grant's popularity is growing that he now performs at the Corn Exchange rather than the smaller more intimate Junction, the last time he was here.. The sound balance and quality was better there, but what you lose in subtlety you gain in sheer whoomf. The band has a considerably meatier sound and percussive punch, no doubt partly as a consequence of the venerable Budgie ( The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees ) now thwacking away in his own idiosyncratic, but highly effective style.

Its not just the band that's different, the John Grant we saw last night appeared a much transformed man from the guy who performed here three years ago. Then, his self consciousness and fluctuating confidence was quite noticeable and the audience picking up on it yelled words of love and encouragement at him constantly. There was very little of that last night, he appeared a much more assured, relaxed and substantial performer. Physically his body is less flabby and more beefy. He even remarked about going for a run around Cambridge before the gig! He actually looks happy, jokes around and beams all the time, boogies along with his band 'shaking that ass' with an abandon and lack of inhibition. He's enjoying himself and one can only feel heartened and rather chuffed for him, No doubt the new boyfriend could be one catalyst for this much improved self esteem. But, when you hear the spectrum of styles and types of songs on display here you have to say this is an impressive range. After three successful albums and many critical accolades and plaudits, he ought to feel justifiably proud of it and simply 'flaunt it girl', and tonight he does.

Half the set was comprised of tracks from the new album Grey Tickles and Black Pressure. On CD it seemed a good but perhaps not outstanding record, with not quite so many stand out tracks as on Pale Green Ghosts. However, these new tracks really blossom and come more convincingly into there own live. Snug Slacks, Voodoo Doll, Disappointing and You and Him are given extra heft and muscularity, they're so much more funky and heavy. Older tracks are scattered around the set, the obligatory Queen of Denmark, which he can sing again and again and again as far as I'm concerned, I love it. Its one of his trademark barbed satirical songs, wryly witty, written as some sort of payback towards an old lover.

His more straightforwardly uncomplicated songs such as Glacier and the old Czar's song Drug are almost perfectly constructed. Even when writing a more traditional love song Grant appears incapable of writing a trite or clich├ęd lyric, at least not without an ironic twist. Often these songs reveal there true beauty when unadorned by strings or other arrangements. The final encores tonight were devoted to love songs that Grant accompanies himself on the piano, and leaves just the richness of his voice to embellish them. Yes, that voice, it is a wonder to behold in concert. There is never any sense of strain there, from the depths to the top edge of his register its all reached quite effortlessly. Some singers when you hear them live you realise haven't quite got the vocal strength, outside of a studio, to maintain their range live, their voices start to become unsustainable, to crack or squeek. Grant is solidly on the note pretty much all the time.

 Grant's popularity may grow so he can no longer play places like Cambridge, and that'll be a sad day. There is a loss the bigger the venue, and his songs are so honest and self revealing that in his case the lack of intimacy might not be to anyone's benefit.

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