John Grant has found a second life as a solo artist, with a success that eluded him through his decade-long run as the frontman of The Czars. Though his former band met with great critical acclaim (and, if you’re a new fan of Grant, you really do owe it to yourself to check them out – a two-disc compilation Best Of was released last year) they never seemed to find an audience in the way he has now. Which, on the face of it, seems odd – Grant as a solo artist is far more directly confrontational than he ever was in his time with the band. “There are children who have cancer, so all bets are off, because I can’t compete with that,” he croons in the title track of his recently released third album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. A shocking sentiment? Maybe, but it’s this unfiltered stream-of-consciousness that makes Grant’s new work stand out from his former life in the group.
It was with this track that Grant opened his show at The Hamilton. Grant started off the set at the piano, and throughout the night moved between there and a microphone at center stage. His albums have become a study in contrast, with the ballad-like songs that he was previously known for being pushed further and further aside by electronica – a move that he began to explore with songs like the title track on 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts, and which he takes further on the new album with tracks such as “Guess How I Know” and “You and Him” (which includes yet another Grant lyrical oddity – “You and Hitler oughta get together/You oughta learn to knit and wear matching sweaters” – Grant apparently doesn’t like someone). These tracks and more formed the centerpiece of the set, though he also found room for some of the more classic-Grant sounding tracks such as “Marz” and “GMF,” and even a nod to his former life with a solo piano version of The Czars’ “Drug” opening the encore.
“Sorry, I’ve never had the appropriate attitude,” Grant growls in “Snug Slacks” over a driving electronic bass line. Yet for all of the brashness of his songs, Grant is charming and funny between tracks. He even eventually acquiesces to one fan’s insistent demands for “Fireflies,” despite claiming to barely remember the song. It ends up, flaws and all, being one of the most beautiful performances of the set.
Irish indie folk band Villagers, the project of singer-songwriter Conor O’Brien, opened the show, playing tracks from their third album Darling Arithmetic, released earlier this year. O’Brien also joined Grant on stage during his set for a rendition of Grant’s song “Glacier” (originally recorded on Pale Green Ghosts with Sinéad O’Connor).