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Some of the best gigs are full of contrasts and contradictions and that's exactly what you'll experience while watching the burley looking John Grant bestow both moments of tender beauty and dirty electro brilliance. An American who is now making use of his impressive beard to brave the chill residing in Iceland, Grant uses his accomplished song writing ability to give a visceral sense of his past suffering with lacerating self-reflection, but also to display a dogged determination not to let life's circumstances conquer him.


Grant began his musical career when he formed The Czars in the '90s and he has since encountered homophobia, suffered heartbreak, fought depression, overcome addiction and has had to come to terms with being HIV positive. Rather than let the challenges of life break him, he's poured these experiences in to his solo work and produced two incredibly creative albums; 2010's Queen of Denmark and last year's '80s electro inspired Pale Green Ghosts. Grant is steadily craving out a niche for himself and winning new fans; mainly among an older demographic which appreciate his Elliott Smith-like raw, honest and wry lyricism, his Rufus Wainwright-like grand musical visioning, and not least his Gary Numan-like electronic soundscaping. All of these elements came into play in ever changing degrees of prominence when he played the Roundhouse in Camden.

Settling in with 'You Don't Have To' the contradictory acoustic and electronic components of his music were at once set in motion as Grant divided his time delivering buttery rich vocals and moving back and forth to the synthesizer to send out sonic flares. After humbly thanking the audience for their support of his current record and introducing his five-piece anglo-icelandic band, his next treat was to play 'Marz' from his debut album. A 'Tubular Bells' like piano melody serves as the undercurrent carrying along the folk lyrics and wistful instrumentals. As Grant softy lists the name of ingredients I started to wish there was an app I could download where he would sing out my shopping list in his dulcet tones to make trips to the supermarket much more serene.


Grant didn't only relocate to Iceland to make his beard a functional piece of facial apparatus, but also to utilise the production skills of electronic powerhouse, Birgir Þórarinsson for his current album. The electronic elements in his arrangements are noticeably amped up on Pale Green Ghosts, but that failed to prepare me for the intensity of sound Grant produces live. The crowd were unexpectedly whipped up into an excitable throng as loud and low frequency noise turned the gig from laid back listening into something more subversive in nature. 'Why Don't You Love Me' became a fierce monster of a track while strobe lighting attacked the crowd and Grant and the band layered the electronics to such an extent that I thought that I'd been transported to a Chemical Brother's set. 'Pale Green Ghosts', 'Black Belt' and the Germanic avant-garde track 'That's The Good News' were also brought to life on stage like something out of a dark and twisted fairy-tale.


Returning to a softer more vulnerable state, Grant retreated from the energy of electro in order to showcase his talent on the piano and let his emotive vocals carry the set forward with 'Where The Dreams Go To Die.' With the mood of the room now more contemplative it was a perfect time to play 'Glacier', which left the crowd awe-struck by the intensity of the instrumental conclusion. There was more poignancy to come with the Grant's solo rendition of The Czars' song 'Drug' creating a juxtaposition between the fragile beauty of Grant's piano playing and his manly baritone voice.

It's rare to go to a gig that fuses so many divergently sounding sections as skilfully as John Grant manages to do. I was left astounded by his musical range and the way he reinterprets his tracks to play live. During his four song encore which included the popular track 'GMF', he sings the lyric "I am the greatest mother fucker that you're ever gonna meet," considering the talent I've witnessed, I'd say that he is most definitely in contention.


















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Amazing album! Amazing gig at Camden roundhouse, the best gig of my life! - Layla Tomlinson