Colston Hall, Bristol
There’s nothing more annoying than somebody telling you they’ve just been to the best show of the year. Especially when they go on to hurl superlatives at it, detailing the minutiae of the evening, just what made each moment effective and profound, and how you really missed out.
John Grant with the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra at the Colston Hall was the best show of the year, and stands as a triumph both for effective instrumentation and wholly profound lyricism. You really missed out. The evening began at 7:30 sharp, and Crack were warned on entry, ‘there will be no intermission’ – the reason for this possibly being that an interval would have unnaturally pulled us from the mesmeric state Grant induced. Opening with You Don’t Have To from his 2013 album Pale Green Ghosts, Grant’s sincere baritone was accompanied first by a rumbling synth, and then by the soft clucking of pizzicato from the string section. The orchestration built, the strings swelled, and Grant issued the line, “Remember when we used to fuck all night long? Neither do I because I always passed out.” It was a moment that indicated the qualities of the evening. Paired with the Sinfonia orchestra, Grant’s trademark brutish honesty was given wings.
Touring with an orchestra is no innovation, plenty of artists have followed this model, either in a bid for credibility or perhaps to squeeze the last out of an album at the end of its lifespan. Yet with Grant, the application of regality and bombast to his frank style created an experience that not only justified the tour, it endorsed endless repeat. It wasn’t unlike a mumblecore movie being scored by John Williams. The weirdest, darkest jealousies and regrets detailed in Grant’s writing, were flushed with glory and sadness of elephantine proportions. It’s probably true in life that the most trivial moment or passing comment can ache with significance, and Grant’s set was a tribute to these details.
During GMF’s dense refrain, “I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet”, we considered the efficacy of the chorus in relation to its singer. At once, the chorus is packed with self-loathing, an emotional state Grant deals with brutally and elegantly. Yet on another level, with the storm of an orchestra over his shoulder and a music hall transfixed on his bearish frame, perhaps it is worth considering the chorus as fact.