John Grant - O2 Academy Oxford
8th May 2013
The O2 Academy in Oxford is an interesting place; by interesting I mean scruffy and in need of a bloody good clean and repaint. The toilets smell like they’ve just come back from doing duty at a festival – and tonight they’re being frequented by punters in designer glasses and M&S scarves or jumpers who are probably used to the more civilised New Theatre in the centre of town. Still there’s the prerequisite student crowd here as well to help keep things real. Oh, and an out-of-place guy in an Iron Maiden t-shirt who proves to be the only one waving his arm around for most of the evening.
Icelandic support act Asgeir Trausti plays his eerie Nordic rock to a quarter full room, and gets a pretty good response considering he delivers half his set in his native tongue. It was interesting to hear that he contacted tonight’s main act to help translate his lyrics to English and is now on a European tour with him. A good phone call I think!
Fans of casual swearing are in for a treat as no-one drops the f-bomb like John Grant. There’s no chance you’ll be offended though, even by the appearance of the stronger curses, as his demeanour and delivery on stage makes you feel like his best mate and you’ll forgive him anything. In between introducing his lead guitarist as a “crafty fucker”, trying to get our testicles vibrating, and a particularly colourful anecdote about Ernest Borgnine, Grant’s wonderful baritone voice also takes us through the majority of tracks from his latest long player, Pale Green Ghosts. Played live it all sounds somehow different, with a much richer and deeper sound. In the centre of the set ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, ‘Black Belt’ and ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’, with their sonic zips and zaps and looped string sections, turn the O2 into the nightclub it usually is on a Friday night. I’m not sure there’s a sight quite like John Grant getting his groove on.
His assortment of between-song banter forms as much a part of his live experience as the songs, tonight covering everything from the death of Divinyls vocalist Chrissy Amphlett, the dancing style of Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the dark one in Abba), how Grant admires the courageous Jason Bourne (he meant Jason Collins), and how quite a few of his songs are inspired by Woody Allen or his movies, specifically 'GMF' and its genius "I am the greatest motherfucker you’re ever going to meet, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes" chorus. I did say he swore.
The only disappointment tonight is that he doesn’t play ‘TC & Honeybear’ or ‘ Chicken Bones’ despite the nearly two hour show. We are treated to ‘Marz’, with its candy coated lyrical imagery offset against the cold blue and purple stage lighting. And ‘Queen Of Denmark’ is one of the highlights of his set, beautiful vocals exchanging turns with bursts of guitar and drums.
It’s clear tonight that Grant has few peers; 'Glaciers' proves he's a top player in the current songwriting game - the touching, personal lyrics contrasted with the epic music make for an utterly compelling experience. It’s one of the few times I’ve heard a completely silent room; no chatter, not a single drunk shouting at his mate. ‘It Doesn’t Matter To Him’ proves that he also has an excellent voice, with not a chink in his delivery.
You'll go far to find a more honest, amusing, interesting, comfortable, and mesmerising live performer than Mr John Grant. Tonight, the only lingering odour proved to be 'Eau d'awesome'.