John Grant has treated The Sage to some truly wondrous shows in recent years, and it was little surprise his following returned in force for this latest visit to Hall 1.
Having spent the mid-90s and early-00s fronting criminally underrated group The Czars, the US-born, Iceland-based singer scored his breakthrough as a solo artist at the turn of the decade, winning hearts and minds alike with his unadulterated themes and droll, often blunt lyricism.
For those lucky enough to bear witness, 2014’s orchestral turn with the Royal Northern Sinfonia remains an almost unattainably high bar, yet Grant and his five-piece band are never anything less than a delight – and proved as much here with another sterling showing.
Before their two-hour performance got underway, early birds enjoyed a welcome support slot from E.B. the Younger, a new solo project from Midlake vocalist Eric Pulido.
Stripped to a bare bones guitar and keys format, his ‘70s indebted folk and country carried an endearing glow, and looks set to impress when debut album To Each His Own sees release in March.
Moreover, his appearance provided Grant with an opportunity to introduce one of the most important figures in his life and career.
After The Czars dissolved under a cloud of alcohol and substance abuse, it was Pulido who urged the singer to return to the studio; with Midlake themselves acting as the backing band for his majestic solo bow, Queen of Denmark.
Inviting him back to the stage for that record’s Sigourney Weaver, Grant credited Pulido as “the man who brought me back from the dead creatively",
Suffice to say, we too have much to thank him for – although for all his and Midlake’s influence, the years since have seen Grant plot his own musical path.
He’s certainly never been shy of a splash of synth, yet those electronic undercurrents now lie front and centre; a progression which reached its culmination on last year’s adventurous Love Is Magic LP.
Mixing old and new, tonight’s opening stages were something of a hodgepodge, but come the midpoint we’d embarked on a fully-fledged dance extravaganza.
It was a marked change from previous tours – though truth be told, the fresh additions didn’t always meet the standards we’ve come to expect.
There were moments of inspiration – namely the vital technicolour banger Preppy Boy, which together with camp disco romp He’s Got His Mother’s Hips saw Grant flaunt some of his more sprightly dance moves.
Conversely, Touch And Go is as much of a filler track live as it is on record, while Metamorphosis’ absurd flamboyance bookends a decidedly stodgy midsection. It’s far from boring, but for many its jarring tonal shifts were the signal for a toilet break.
Perhaps tellingly, the bulk of the momentum was generated by older electro-fuelled favourites.
Pale Green Ghosts, for instance, remains a stunning odyssey of spliced techno and throbbing bass, while the socking beats propelling Black Belt and Sensitive New Age Guy ensured this quasi rave concluded at a terrific pace.
For all their qualities, however, few would deny that Grant’s greatest talent lies in balladry, and so it was during the slower closing segment that the singer reached his true level.
A song of staggering musical and emotional weight, the monumental Glacier brought the audience to its feet, before Queen Of Denmark (dedicated to a sadly deceased ticket holder) was milked with a knowing wink and explosive sense of melodrama.
By the time he’d signed off with the stark, isolated beauty of Caramel, earlier misgivings were but a distant memory.
It’s true that portions of tonight’s set wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a nightclub across the river, yet for all their familiarity Grant’s visits to The Sage remain an essential, spellbinding treat. Long may they continue!