Putting the fun and funk into a mid-life crisis

Robert McMillen

John Grant

Mandela Hall

Open House Festival

John Grant really knows how to create a soundscape. Electronica a la Gary Numan, acoustic ballads, grunge, funk, a bassline that sent seismometers into a panic and Zappa-esque cookiness all invite you into the world of the ex-Czars frontman who has found critical and mass appeal in the past few years.

And no wonder.

The Mandela Hall was heaving this week as the Open House festival invited us to jump on board the emotional rollercoaster ride of Grant's life as told in songs that were tender, sleazy, bleak, raging and/or funny. Sometimes all of these adjectives describe the one song.

The Michigan-born singer/songwriter was showcasing songs from his new album, Grey Tickles and Black Pressure, grey tickles being the literal translation from Icelandic of "mid-life crisis", while black pressure is the literal translation from Turkish for nightmare.

While that might give you a hint of what's going on in Grant's head after a long period of alcohol and drug abuse and reckless affairs, the song ensemble is surprisingly uplifting.

The American has found an emotional haven in Iceland and while he doesn't gloss over a troubled past, he seems to be in a good frame of mind.

Grant is HIV-positive and sings about it in Ernest Borgnine (from the last album, Pale Green Ghosts) while the new album starts off with the title track which shows a lack of self-pity: “And I'm supposed to believe that there's some guy, Who will take the pain away. And there are children who have cancer, And so all bets are off.”

However, he is scathing about ex-lover(s) as in one of last night's encore songs, You and Him: “You and Hitler oughta tie the knot, You could do it at Taco Bell to spice up the plot” while you might or might not want to use the pick-up line from Snug Slacks: “Is it difficult for you to be so beautiful, Or do you find the advantages tend to outweigh the disadvantages?"

All this enveloped in Infectious, throbbing dance music.

But there were also moments of great tenderness with just Grant on the piano, and It Doesnt Matter to Him was just stunning.

In fact so good was the gig that a young lady near the front was proposed to!

(She said “yes”)


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