John Grant performing at The Edinburgh Playhouse was, for me, a musical adventure into the unknown as prior to planning to review this show I was not familiar with his music (but that is what the internet is for). Coming into a new artist’s musical songbook is always an interesting experience as a reviewer as you are not only discovering their work, but also their audience and discovering which songs they have taken to their hearts and responses to others. I quickly found at this show a new songwriter to add to my “listen to” list as Michigan-born, now Reykjavik-based John Grant is a man of many different shades and colours and his words and music reflect that inner self so clearly.
Singer/songwriters can take you on journeys of wonderful imagination or at times painful self-exploration. The very gifted ones like John Grant can do both, but here we have a man willing not only to explore many of the issues in his life that have caused him to ask many questions of those around him, but also at times personal inner pain. Many of the songs of John Grant are reflections and explorations of his inner self, and it takes a brave and rare songwriter to give that level of inner exposure to an audience, and the opening song of this set "You Don't Have To" immediately demonstrated John’s personal vulnerability and shared it with the audience. A song written about meeting an old friend the first time they ever met, “Outer Space”, was followed by the obvious crowd pleaser “I Wanna Go To Marz”, a song that not only has a haunting fragility about it, but also shows something that only the best of writers seem able to do, and that is take what to most people are random and disconnected words and put them together in a way that makes you feel like they have always belonged together.
There are so many songs in this 90 minute or so set (plus encores) that I need to listen to again and again, but the title track of the soon to be released new album (October 2018), “Love is Magic”, is a very special song.
There are many dark and introspective sides to the music of John Grant, but there are also songs of hope and joy, and the range of music and emotions that are being explored here in words and music is vast, from heart-breaking inner exploration to dance floor anthems.
John Grant the man is hiding nothing about himself on stage here, and that is obviously part of the reason that his audiences world wide have taken to his music. For many, through his words and music a voice is given to their lives too.
John also has an obvious love for keyboards and synthesisers, old and new, and a fascination for their different voices and musical possibilities, and although, along with the band tonight, we explored some of those possibilities, there are so many songs from this show that I would love to hear stripped down to their core essence of just the power of their words and music and John Grant on piano/keyboards.
Review by Tom King
The Playhouse Theatre