LIVE REVIEW: John Grant with Royal Northern Sinfonia, The Sage Gateshead

JOHN GRANT ... played a remarkable show with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage Gateshead.
JOHN GRANT ... played a remarkable show with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage Gateshead.

EVERY so often a show crops up which you just know is going to be extraordinary.

That was the case last night when esteemed American songwriter John Grant made his return to The North East - together with The Sage’s very own 34-piece Royal Northern Sinfonia, who’re also joining him on a handful of other extra-special UK dates.

In a superlative two hour performance (which was also filmed and broadcast live online), the one-time Czars singer graced a sold-out Hall One with cuts from across his catalogue, as well a new quartet specifically written for the current tour.

Even without added luxuries, 46-year-old Grant is one of modern music’s most brilliant and unique voices, chronicling his struggles with sexuality, drugs and depression in songs laced with anger, wit and wicked humour.

With them, however, his faultless baritone and already-luscious backing band were elevated to a whole new plateau of magnificence, on what surely ranks among the greatest nights this distinguished venue has ever hosted.

High points were innumerable, ranging from the spine-tingling bridge of It’s Easier to the dazzling sonic and visual spectacle of Pale Green Ghosts and the glorious, rarely aired defiance of Jesus Hates Faggots.

The new numbers were majestic too, making full use of his extensive vocal range along with the added orchestration, with the dark yet soaring Black Blizzard in particular standing out.

The crescendo, though, was saved for an astonishing three-song run at the conclusion of the main set, kick-started by a superb rendition of signature tune GMF.

From there, the apex arrived in the form of the title track from his debut masterpiece Queen of Denmark, whose explosive emotional punch sounded truly phenomenal with a full compliment of 40 musicians.

Remarkably, that impact was matched if not exceeded by Glacier, an impassioned, inspirational swipe at American theocracy which drew a stirring standing ovation and even had some audience members welling up following a sensational string climax.

Judging by the looks on faces and tones of voices upon leaving the hall, it’s clear they and the rest of Grant’s public felt a sense of pleasure and privilege experienced only through witnessing something truly exceptional.