Review: John Grant

A stellar show with guest appearances from Sinéad O’Connor and Conor O’Brien is pure, poignant pleasure

Artist: John Grant

Venue: Olympia Dublin

Date Reviewed: March 3rd, 2014

John Grant
Olympia Theatre, Dublin

On a cold night, there was warmth aplenty in a packed Olympia as the crowd joined in on John Grant’s song GMF : “I am the greatest motherf***er you are ever going to meet” they sing joyfully. But this is an early high: still to come are appearances by Sinéad O’Connor, Villager Conor O’Brien, a breathtaking Abba cover and a Patsy Cline song. Now that’s bang for your buck.

Two important things about Grant: lyrically he combines the emotional turbulence of a 14-year-old’s diary entries with the gnarled wisdom of a Nick Cave or a Leonard Cohen. This works to particularly great effect on a pressure-cooker version of Why Don’t You Love Me Any More? – a bizarre question, he notes,as by the time you get to ask it, the answer has already been given.

The other remarkable aspect is just how flexible a songwriter he is. At times tonight he presents a song that could have come straight out of 1970s Laurel Canyon; others are pure US FM rock; while the remainder are shot through with cutting-edge Icelandic electronica.

Drawing from both his albums – Queen of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts – he is just beautiful on the poignant Where Dreams Go to Die , a song that would grace any big Broadway musical.

The highlight, however, is Glacier , with Sinéad O’Connor and Conor O’Brien taking alternate verses. An anthem about bitter hypocrisy, it gets new wings here, with O’Connor in splendid form as she channels Janis Joplin.

Caramel , “the only pure love song” he’s ever written, is the perfect counterpoint to what has preceded it. Like an early solo McCartney love song, it is subtly affecting. He dug into his previous band The Czars’ back catalogue for a cover of Angel Eyes – imbuing the Abba classic (but what Abba song isn’t a classic?) with extra emotional resonance and giving it a Tex-Mex flourish. A pleasure from first note to last.

Tours to Mandela Hall, Belfast tonight; Róisin Dubh, Galway on Wednesday; and Cork Opera House on Thursday