John Grant @ Camden Jazz Café – Tues 8th June 2010

Finally crawling from the abyss of alt-country obscurity, John Grant managed to create one of the most witty, tragic and emotionally frank albums of the year so far; with the help of indie favourites Midlake. ‘Queen Of Denmark’ is Grant’s first solo album since disbanding his Denver based outfit The Czars back in 2004 and fuses tender piano and acoustic tales of self-pity with snipes at ex-lovers and homo-phobic culture accompanied by occasional synths and dramatic yet restrained orchestral instrumentation.

An ordinarily dressed, bearded, gentle giant took to the stage in front of a full Camden Jazz Cafe. His physical appearance more suited to a mid-west lumberjack than a shy and emotionally troubled musician. The audience seemed to fall in love with him in an instant, warm applause and cheers followed him around the stage. Any kind of polite murmur was shot down within seconds of Grant sitting down at the piano and opening his mouth. His voice, like benign molten lava, filled the room with warmth and detracted any attention away from the awkwardly placed synth player at the front of the stage.

A committed, if slightly under rehearsed four-piece backed Grant onstage; playing the parts Midlake supplied on the album. The Denver giant took his time between songs and bantered nervously but openly with the crowd. A story would often be told before a song; the most memorable of which for ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’, where his childhood memory shared with us a kind nostalgia for his ‘favourite’ song. Cheers erupted when fan-favourite ‘Sigourney Weaver’ struck up; one of the few uplifting numbers in the set. The title track from the album was probably the highlight with its incredible dynamic between the light breezy melody of the verse to the heavy violent thrust of the chorus.

More from the album followed including the caustic ‘Jesus Hates Faggots’. A painful yet refreshingly aggressive swipe at his religious upbringing; it visibly affected Grant emotionally as he pumped his way through the hard-hitting lyrics. He didn’t neglect The Czars’ fans and offered up ‘Drug’ from the back catalogue. This love song seemed somewhat more poignant now he has won his long battle with drink and drugs.

When the set came to a close and the usual encore pantomime began, you couldn’t help but feel the uncertainty of whether he would return or not. He gingerly appeared after a considerable wait and seemed genuinely surprised at the enthusiasm shown by the London crowd. It may well have been a mistake. His unprepared version of the beautiful ‘Caramel’ was riddled with errors and he looked like he might give up, yet his audience was forever on his side. Cheering him through every mistake they managed to keep him afloat until the end. This last moment seemed to summarise Grant so perfectly: A wonderfully talented yet self-effacing musician who you feel just needs a little help from his friends.

Words: Gary Raisbeck

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  1. ‘Gentle giant’ – perfect!

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