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First Night: John Grant

THE last time John Grant was in Ireland, he wasn't aware of, well, anything, really.

It was with his previous band; a critically acclaimed yet largely ignored five-piece from Denver called The Czars. At that point in his life, it's easy to suggest that the troubled musician might very well have drank, smoked, or snorted whatever he could get his hands on, such was the degree of an addiction that almost threatened to ruin both his talent and, indeed, his life.

However, much like his time spent in a band, those days are well and truly in the past, for tonight, surrounded by a relatively decent following, we appear to be witnessing a rebirth of sorts; a new beginning, even, that might just lead to all kinds of beautiful happenings.

Such as a larger audience at future presentations of his debut solo album. Or maybe just a little more recognition in general. After all, not every songwriter waits until they hit their 40s to release a defining and most brilliant piece of work such as Queen of Denmark.


Assisted in the studio by stubble-wearing Texan rockers Midlake, Grant instead decides to keep things minimal on stage.

Armed with just a keyboard, synthesiser, and a 23-year-old guitar-playing sidekick (who's also quite handy with the backing vocals), our man of the hour sure knows how to hold a crowd captivated, that grand old voice of his a suitable match for the big-friendly-giant stature on show.

He's done his homework, too, you know; read up on the Famine; watched Hunger on DVD -- the whole shebang.

But we didn't come to witness another US song-and-dance-man profess about how great it is to be back in 'I-are-land'. We came for the music and, thankfully, Grant rarely disappoints.

Indeed, the guy certainly has a knack for sardonically wrapped rhyming schemes and gloriously infectious choruses; the majority of which involve a number of varied and often colourful themes.

One minute, we have an enticing love letter to his favourite ice-cream parlour back home (I Wanna Go To Marz), the next we're in much trickier territory as the openly homosexual performer presents the unusually catchy Jesus Hates Faggots; a tongue-in-cheek ode to his folks that's about as messed up as it is wonderful.

There's plenty of tragedy on offer, especially with the haunting Where Dreams Go to Die, and while the 70s soft-rock facade that encapsulates much of the album might have been sacrificed for a more stripped and delicate live offering, it remains impossible not to get lost in Grant's deep and highly emotive vocal.

Overall, it's a graceful and often stunning performance -- one that even allows for fans of The Czars to enjoy a few gems from the band's back catalogue, such as Paint the Moon and the entrancing Drug.


Wrapping up this, the last night of his current tour, Grant continues to display an affable yet confident sense of showmanship right to the end, signing off with an (almost) a cappella rendition of the brilliant Chicken Bones.

"I'm about to explode just like a wonder bread bomb," he sings. Judging from the rapturous response, he could be right, too.