Gig review: John Grant at Rough Trade

Words: Izzy Morris
Photos: Nigel King
Sunday 23 June 2024
reading time: min, words

The great man that is John Grant visited Nottingham’s Rough Trade to support the release of his brand new album The Art of The Lie. We headed down to watch his performance and Q&A with the album’s producer Ivor Guest...

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There are very few voices in this world that can mesmerise in the way that John Grant’s does. While many of his more synth-heavy, funk-soaked numbers take the vocals out of the foreground somewhat, a stripped back session at Rough Trade was the perfect opportunity to let audience members indulge in the silky smooth decadence of his instrument. Gliding between emotionally rich declarations and witty side comments, we enjoyed a short set of four songs from his repertoire leaning more towards the sombre, ballad-y end of the spectrum.

Interestingly enough, only one of the four tracks was from The Art of the Lie – the very album Grant visited the venue to promote. The record is an experimental, cinematic and at times groovy emotional concoction; so in many ways, in an environment where all of that synthesised layering is less possible, it makes sense to reach backwards for performance. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure combines doomsday humour with swirling darkness, while Sigourney Weaver captures feeling alienated (no pun intended) and being bullied as a child, packaged in what is again a humorous recount of the movies. It’s always a perfectly struck balance, and both tracks were performed with an incredibly enticing effect. 

From the new album, he did however present Zeitgeist, the final track on the record. Grant’s haunting vocals reverberated around the room, offering a very different experience than is found on the album, which provides these echoes with stacked vocoder harmonies, haunting in a very different way. It’s quite the challenge to conjure that same feeling in alternative circumstances, but this track in particular proves Grant’s mastery and, more than anything, artistry. The effect and the feeling are always central to his work, and this was absolutely the case in this intimate taster of a performance.

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Afterwards, accompanied by The Art of the Lie’s producer Ivor Guest, Grant sat down ready for questioning, first from and alongside Guest, and then from the audience.

A recurring theme throughout the evening was Grant’s love for technology and synthesisers – something clear to see upon listening to this album in particular. In discussing his partiality for a good old slathering of vocoder onto a song, he defended his indulgence for these electronic elements, as ultimately they create the sounds that he feels he needs to make. This fullness and perfect eccentricity to Grant’s work is, after all, why we love it – it’s fleshed-out, sonically colourful and quintessentially him. The album combines the solemness of Glacier and Marz with the funk of He’s Got His Mothers Hips, indicating a funky tendency as we move through his discography. The solemn is still incredibly present however, and this performance, simple and clean with just vocal and piano, proved that.

The pair also discussed the importance of creating creative spaces, psychologically, socially and physically as well as the process of writing and recording tracks such as Zeitgeist. Even on this short in-store circuit, Grant admitted that he was still playing with the key of it in live performance to find a place for it to sit comfortably and enjoyably for him.

Soon after, the floor was open to the audience, who asked a range of questions, from Reykjavik restaurant recommendations, possible collaboration projects and Fad Gadget hot takes. The audience listened intently as Grant gave insightful responses interspersed with charming wit, before forming a queue to get their albums signed and get their one on one interaction with the incredible musician. It’s part of the magic of these intimate Rough Trade shows – you get to experience the talent, wit and insight up close and personal. For a musical genius like John Grant, these opportunities are golden.

John Grant performed at Rough Trade on 16th June 2024.


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