LIVE REVIEW: John Grant @ The Sage Gateshead | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Four years ago, John Grant’s appearances in Hall Two of the The Sage served notice that, after years of commercial and critical neglect while leading The Czars, his work was finally breaking through to the listenership at large. If so, this appearance in the sold-out main hall complete with the Royal Northern Sinfonia marked another watershed in his career, a coronation as one of the finest singer-songwriters currently working.

From the off, he’s awarded a hero’s reception, every song met by rapturous applause and whoops. For his part, Grant knows how to return the love – he’s a funny, magnetic raconteur between songs, dedicating songs to his Icelandic friends watching the live webcast of the show and, as with his introduction to No More Tangles, offering up some outlandish business proposals. “Just spray it on your partner as they sleep and watch all the co-dependency just slip away…” he offers with an audible wink.

If some acts struggle with the ‘with orchestra’ gig, it’s because their material doesn’t offer any space for the orchestra to sit, reducing the talented players behind them to little more than expensive ornamentation. The melodically rich songs that Grant writes prove highly amendable to the new readings granted to them tonight – the arrangements provided by Fiona Brice are a joy, brought to life immaculately by the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

It’s the more electronic material from Pale Green Ghosts that really benefits from the new arrangements, pulling the songs into delightful new shapes. Opening song You Don’t Have To makes for a wonderful slow curtain-rise for the Sinfonia, while this version of Vietnam far eclipses the recorded version. One of the great dramatic highlights arrives with the title track, opening with a new orchestral overture and climaxing with a wonderful synths and strings duel in the instrumental mid-section.

There’s also four new songs written for the tour, which show John Grant’s taste for touching and often hilarious lyricism present and correct (just see the chorus of Global Warning for proof), whilst also displaying an increasing ear for all things noir. Black Blizzard, which displays Grant’s warm baritone at full force, suggests he’s got a hell of a band Bond theme in him if the producers ever want to get in touch.

Even at a concert as consistent and magical as this though, there are always peaks, and the performance of Glacier brings about a well-earned standing ovation. Already Grant’s most beautiful song, this tale of endurance in the face of depression and social oppression soars further with the Royal Northern Sinfonia behind it. Having delivered his magnificent vocal, Grant ends the song sat down, conducting along with the orchestra, as mesmerised by their performance as everyone else in the room.

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