Philharmonic Hall 22/11/14

Say what you want about JOHN GRANT (he’s probably said worse), but the man does not lack ambition. After disbanding The Czars, the Canadian worked as a backing musician with Midlake and Flaming Lips before launching into a critically lauded solo career producing inventive and candid baroque pop with synth-driven confessionals to rival 80s Cohen or any contemporaries. The latest gauntlet that the restless songwriter has thrown down for himself is to amplify his sterling back catalogue with a full orchestra.

Liverpool has always welcomed Grant with open arms, from an intimate gig at Static Gallery, to a sell-out show at the Arts Club in 2013, and he receives an equally warm reception tonight at the newly refurbished Philharmonic Hall. Backed by Gateshead’s Royal Northern Sinfonia, Grant’s challenge tonight involves re-arranging some of his old favourites as well as showcasing four songs prepared especially for this evening’s occasion.

The first few songs slightly struggle in a tug of war between the intimate and the epic. Grant’s frank lyrics delivered in his trademark baritone are at times swallowed by the Sinfonia’s soaring sound, although the synth solo on Pretend To Care and the brass parts of It’s Easier promise much.

 

JOHN GRANT AND THE ROYAL NORTHERN SINFONIA Image

Everything soon falls into place for Marz. This early set highlight excels thanks to a key change to display Grant’s impressive range but some glitches with the lights still prove distracting. However, we see the event’s raison d’être in the deeply personal moments being enlarged to the universal via building, elevated arrangements.

The bar is raised further with the dramatic, stringed intro to the title track from 2013’s stellar album, Pale Green Ghosts. The song really benefits from the theatrical bombasticity of the setting and from here Grant’s legend is further established. New tracks No More Tangles and Geraldine are more than worthy of the ambitious set-up but it is the atmospheric Black Blizzard which proves to be the pick of the bunch, perfectly utilising the climactic ascents of the Sinfonia and keyboard wizardry of Chris Pemberton.

Predictably, GMF gets one of the best receptions of the night and deservedly so. A song of rare self-belief rather than flagellation from a man who has clearly got some committed fans, two of whom travelled from the States for this evening’s show and gifted Grant a Sigourney Weaver doll. Encores Queen Of Denmark and the wonderfully poetic Glacier end the night on a high; a near-two hour set without intermission is engaging throughout and forces one to excitedly wonder what Grant is capable of next.

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