A Great Performer’s Great Performance

July 2nd, 2013

John Grant – The Bowery Ballroom – July 1, 2013

A great performance often surpasses expectations—not just predictions of how good a particular musician’s live show might be, but what types of things you expect to see from the artist. And with John Grant, there’s a degree of expected quirkiness. For a guy who writes heavily emotional material with nonsensical verses, plus songs from the perspective of a narrator claiming he’s “the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet,” and several tunes that are introduced as inspired by Woody Allen movies, it is assumed his concerts will carry a certain degree of tongue-in-cheekiness.

But then you see him perform live, like last night at The Bowery Ballroom, and in his final refrains of “Vietnam,” he jumped up an octave and you hear yourself saying, “Fuck, this guy can really sing.” Then he introduced his Icelandic backing band (they’re all from Iceland except the pianist) that put some serious emotional punch behind the confessional nonchalance of his lyrics, turning how you hear his music on its head. And then he introduced “Ernest Borgnine,” inspired in part from discovering he was HIV-positive and in part by meeting Ernest Borgnine while working at Gramercy Tavern, which somehow sounds less emotional and serious than the song that follows it, “Where Dreams Go to Die,” introduced as a soliloquy about the G train.

“I Hate This Town” morphed into an eccentric sing-along. And Grant dedicated “Glacier” to gays living in Putin’s Russia, which recently enacted sweeping antigay laws—and it felt like the most perfectly poignant fuck you to bigotry. “Queen of Denmark” was filled with so many grandiose twists and turns that it felt like an actual Queen song. It’s rare for a show to make you realize you’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to an artist, that how you would have explained him before seeing him live wasn’t even the half of it. It’s too soon to say this with any degree of certitude, but John Grant just might be the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Andie Diemer |