JOHN GRANT, Bexhill De La Warr Pavillion, 28 July 2016
Somewhat by stealth, John Grant has become popular. Now, selling out the Royal Albert Hall is no small feat, and without a hit as such, or much in the way of radio or TV play, the word of Grant spreads somewhat by word of mouth. Bexhill in the summer, at the gorgeous De La Warr Pavillion – one of my favourite venues in the world, an Art Deco masterpiece backing onto a beach after all, is considerably smaller than many venues he plays in the UK. Promoting last years “Grey Tickles, Black Pressure”, on paper Grant sounds like an unsellable proposition : witty self loathing wrapped in music with electronic / horror soundtrack overtones, alongside a man who looks like “The Thing”-era Kurt Russell in his late 40's. Pretty much the antithesis of our current cultural musical discourse, which is something so generally alien to me I feel like an old man yelling at clouds.
It's a long way from playing to 150 people in a tent in Scotland's yoof-obsessed T in The Park, where 80,000 stand in a field watching some gonk press buttons on his laptop instead of something more... live. I feel so old discussing it, but when you see one guy playing a DJ set of material with video screens it's not 'live'. There's no risk. No variation. Just a rote repetition. In effect, you're paying some guy to press play. The musician is actually a projectionist. It's not a show, as such – the audience are the show, because they're the only thing that ever changes.
Even a standard electronic show, where the majority of the show is somewhat predictable, albeit recreated live, is more 'real'. There's more engagement, more work. Of course, none of it matters. What matters is how we feel. How we respond. How the audience work. If the role of art is to communicate and engage, as long as the communication breaches the gap between people, then it is successful.
Backed by the same band he's had for ages (albeit with a new drummer in the shape of the showy Budgie, once of Siouxsie And The Banshees), Grant shows how live this is, by changing his mind after the first song and playing “Marz” second. Can't imagine Duplo – or whatever DJ I saw on BBC4 headlining a huge fucking field in Scotland to Buckfast Chavs – doing that.
Concerts are like sex – an intimate connection that exists only for a short time between the people in that room that can never be undone. IT may be forgotten. But it can never unhappen. It would be tedious if it was always the same, wouldn't it? That's what this feels like. Music can be intimate, personal, and human. Not just a bunch of noise to lose your shit to in a field.
Being then, the adventures of a late middle aged hitless American singer with a friendly cult following, John Grant's audience feels like.. a musical episode of Hairy Bikers – or perhaps, a night out with a close friend. There's no demographic. Front row of the balcony are sensitive pensioners, nestled next to troubled sensitive young men, and boring sensitive couples, and everything else in between. From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z. OH man, feelings. I only listen to music to let me feel, because the rest of the world is too much. Some shows you go to, and you see the crowd, and you know who they are. This audience is broad in age and style, and John Grant is the rare type of artist who's fans you can't pick out walking down the street. But then again, his material isn't .. specfic.. it's aimed at humans, about humans, with sharp wit and no shortage of insight. You think you're going down a certain avenue, and then there's suddenly a song about Hitler, cult movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and honeymoons in Chernobyl. Sincerity is wrapped in a tight, perceptive noose, the rug is out from under your feet and then there's a song that openly makes you laugh when you first hear it.
And in this, there's also songs that just freeze, forever, emotions that I was never able to capture that I have lived years with ; a line as simple as “I still keep trying to figure out how I become irrelevant, how I got evicted from his heart.” sums up one specific, horrific year of my life. A year where everything unravelled and the narrative of reality became a David Lynch film. Songs shed light on lives, and help us live it. In some ways, these songs are a friend, and isn't that all you need from songs? Music isn't just a bunch of noise, but a painkiller, an ally, a friend, a voice in the wilderness. And in it, John Grant is truthsayer and joker, who takes songs of sincerity, and delivers them with a vicious joke at the end, that makes it just sweet enough to savour. At points, these songs leave you on the verge of tears of recognition, then laughing at the absurdity of near enough everything. Just like life itself.
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
It Doesn't Matter To Him
Pale Green Ghosts
You And Him
Queen Of Denmark
Jesus Hates Faggots
No More Tangles