Music review: John Grant, Playhouse

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There is such a casual brilliance to Canadian crooner John Grant’s music that even his most relaxed, straightforward concert reveals scintillating layers to his sound, and so it was with one of the most keenly anticipated shows of the International Festival’s contemporary music programme, with Grant and his Icelandic band – plus the notable piston engine of Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer, Budgie – embellished only by a stage set of illuminated pillars that looked imported from a 1980s music video.

John Grant, Playhouse (****)

Grant’s music oscillated between the pulsing synth, plangent guitar and martial beat of You Don’t Have To and the sumptuous easy listening country of It’s Easier, while his lyrics often illustrated the thin line between love and hate, blurred in his luxurious baritone caress.

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His cheeky, at times caustic sense of humour popped up not just in his lyrical putdowns but in the impish analogue synth lines that punctuated some of his most sincere, spine-tingling paeans to love and friendship.

But he was at his best at extremes, marshalling the majestic ballad Glaciers to its positively volcanic climax, with heroic piano, distorted guitar and pillars flaming orange, and on the epic, escalating but also very funny melodrama of Queen of Denmark.