It must have been quite a shock for an artist from cold and dark Iceland to arrive in what was, on this particular day, the hottest city in the world. If the heat had any effect on John Grant it didn’t show, as he managed to pull off an incredibly intense and entertaining show for the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Sessions season.
Pale Green Ghosts is Grant’s latest album, and an absolutely fantastic musical feat. Influenced by 80’s rock and electronica, Pale Green Ghosts features songs of heartbreak, nostalgia, and adolescent fun all carefully balanced and near perfectly written. Grant performed most of the 11 track record, with older songs such as Sigourney Weaver and Chicken Bone (played as an awesome upbeat encore) thrown into the mix.
Grant himself is a very charismatic, funny, yet slightly cynical performer who is a joy to watch on stage. From the moment he steps on stage with his talented band one could sense smiles of excitement spread through the crowd. He is also a multi-talented performer, a well-practiced vocalist, smooth synth and keyboard player, and clever songwriter. Pale Green Ghosts as an album really showcases these talents, and to witness them coming out on stage in the intimate Sessions theatre space was really something to see.
From the first songs, including Vietnam, you are greeted with a wall of sound that is best described in lyrics from the song itself: ‘like an ancient gypsy curse’, or ‘like a nuclear bomb.’ Throughout the set this energy never dissipates; it only gets transformed into more sombre, emotional power. Listening to the recorded album just doesn’t seem to do the group justice after seeing it live. The apparent simplicity of the songs (in comparison to more modern electronic rock) belies an incredibly stirring presence that accompanies the band. The performance was almost orchestral in scope, despite only six men being on stage.
The use of almost sci-fi synths and electronic effects was a nice touch. The distorted samples and voice modulation in songs such as Glacier and Pale Green Ghosts made the vocals seem almost otherworldly. The electronic parts may have overpowered the other members of the band at some points, but the more traditional instruments shined in Sigourney Weaver.
John Grant’s music carries a positive yet defiant message, which encourages all those oppressed and confused by society’s mixed messages to seek out their own paths even if they end up going against the grain. At the same time he definitely has a sense of humour, seeing the light in the darkness of his own problems and those around him. A large part of Grant’s talent is in the form of song writing, such as how he can make a song about ice cream into a heart-wrenching tale.
Sessions 2014: John Grant was a tremendous success for the artist and his band. It was a real rollercoaster of excitement and emotion that was surely a real treat for Adelaide music lovers of all stripes.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Venue: Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William St
Season: 17January 2014
Duration: 90 minutes
Official Website http://johngrantmusic.com/
Adelaide Festival Centre Page http://www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/whats-on/john-grant-sessions.aspx
Twitter @johnwgrant https://twitter.com/johnwgrant
(Photo Credit: Artist’s Website http://johngrantmusic.com/biography/)