Gig review: John Grant at O2 Academy Leeds

John Grant. Picture: Shawn Brackbill
John Grant. Picture: Shawn Brackbill
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Nine years on from Queen of Denmark, the record that was to transform his musical career, John Grant remains a force to be reckoned with.

A tall, bear-like figure, tonight topped off with a baseball cap and star-shaped face paint in the style of the rock band KISS, he possesses a honeyed baritone and a searing honesty that refuses to mellow with age.

In truth, his 100-minute set at Leeds Academy starts a little slowly, with Grant and his band, who include former Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer Budgie, appearing to be finding their feet while working their way through a succession of AOR ballads that channel his inner Elton John – albeit the Rocket Man with added cuss words.

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, Jesus Hates F*****s and Smug C*** all contain cutting lyrical phrases but none of them has quite the killer chorus of his best work. It takes a switch to wonky electronica in the song Metamorphosis, from his latest album Love Is Magic, for things to seem musically energised.

Grant tells of his horror at reading reports of a racist and homophobic attack on the American actor Jussie Smollett, eliciting a supportive response from the audience. After Pale Green Ghosts he thanks them for cheering him up.

Indeed it’s the songs from that second solo album that really stand out here. It Doesn’t Matter To Him and Black Belt take on a life of their own live, while Sensitive New Age Guy is preceded by a devastating monologue about an English teacher friend of his whose life descended into alcoholism, depression and ultimately suicide after he came out as a transvestite. “That’s the kind of song you’re going to get out of me,” Grant deadpans.

Glacier is astonishing, with Grant’s marvellous voice in full flow as he delivers heartfelt lines such as “Don’t listen to anyone/Get answers on your own/Even if it means that sometimes/You feel quite alone”.

Queen of Denmark is rapturously received, as are the encores GMF and Marz. Before the latter Grant tells of a newfound fondness for the British sitcom Gavin and Stacey, and by the end he really couldn’t have endeared himself to this crowd any more.