John Grant Played Music Hall of Williamsburg

John Grant played his largest New York show to date, but did so with an intimate and stripped down arrangement at Music Hall of Williamsburg on the 2nd of December.

Pale Green Ghosts is deservedly receiving a lot of traction as we approach the “best albums of the year” time. Rough Trade recently named it as the year’s best, and they just might be right.

This was the first time I had been to the Music Hall with a seated configuration, which certainly felt odd, but it was also appropriate given the relaxed vibe.

Arc Iris

Arc Iris opened the show, playing as a duo for the first time in New York. They played in an often intricate cabaret-style, whilst also offering up some more traditional folky arrangements. It was interesting, with some hits and misses. It would be interesting to hear them as a full band, although when they mentioned it was their first show as a duo, I assumed that singer Jocie Adams was usually a solo performer, given the strength of her Bjork-like voice, which was certainly the centre-piece of their set.

With the modest stage setup there was little time to wait between acts, and John Grant entered a little after 10 pm. Whilst the material on Pale Green Ghosts is filled with synths and beats, the stage was claimed by no more than 3 people at any given time. It gave Grant’s exquisite vocals even more of the limelight, and it was interesting to see his new material given a more organic flavour. His voice is like that first cup of coffee in the morning, smooth and delicious; it courses through your body as if you’d be a quivering wreck without it. In these winter months his performance literally and metaphorically warmed the cockles of our hearts. I’ve seen some great singers live in the last (almost) 20 years, and this was right up there with the best.

The set was mixed well between his two solo albums, with a slight leaning towards songs from his debut, Queen of Denmark, which probably lends itself slightly better to the stripped down setting. Whilst I think Pale Green Ghosts is his strongest work to date, the highlight of the night was probably an impeccable rendition of Marz, which I video’d.

It’s hard to consider any song a highlight, however, as the whole show was utterly captivating, with Grant’s between song banter swaying between poignant and hilarious, much like his songs. Few people have the ability to turn on a sixpence in lyrical tone. Glacier was delivered with all the pain the lyrics so vividly describe. He spoke about how the song can be about a struggle that anyone has gone through, but in his own case, it is about how the religious people of his childhood reacted to him being gay.

The show ended with an old Czars tune, Paint the Moon.

There is darkness and sadness in many of his songs, which are often tempered with awe-inspiring sarcasm and wit. They will appeal to any self-critic whilst also offering intelligent wordplay and outright silliness. Despite the darkness, his output has gotten increasingly better with each release, the future looks incredibly bright.

Setlist:

Sigourney Weaver
Where Dreams Go to Die
I Hate This Town
It Doesn’t Matter To Him
GMF
I Wanna Go to Marz
You Don’t Have To
Glacier
Queen of Denmark
TC and Honeybear
Caramel
Fireflies
Paint the Moon

 

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