John Grant’s 2013 release, Pale Green Ghosts seems like it will be one of the most under appreciated albums this year if the turnout for Grant’s show at the Bowery Ballroom was any indication (thought it was moved from the smaller Mercury Lounge). The artist was formerly in the band The Czars but ended up going solo in 2010 with the release of Queen of Denmark that featured the Texas band Midlake as his collaborators. Since then, Grant’s life has turned upside down, he received the news that he’s contracted HIV, and he’s sought refuge in the north having moved to Iceland (though I’m not implying causation). His new album is rooted in the sweeping Arctic, most of his backing band is Icelandic (save for keyboard player Chris Pemberton who was suffering from a toothache) , and is invested with more pulsing electronics than before with the aid of the producer Birgir Thórarinsson (GusGus).
At his Bowery Ballroom show, Grant opened up to the audience, about his HIV status and other lighter fare — like meeting the actor Ernest Borgnine (who became the title of a track just like “Sigourney Weaver) while doing some job. He worked his way through material from both his albums and responded frequently to the crowd shouting song titles or professing their love to him. Particular highlights were the stuttering “Pale Green Ghosts” and the creepy disco “Black Belt” which earned some awkward dance moves from the audience. The sweeping “Glacier” saw Grant drawing out the phrase “This pain / It is a glacier moving through you” placing the slow, land-transforming ice hulk at the center of a personal development. The growth and transformation in Grant’s life over the past few years has been documented as such in his lyrically rich albums and on stage. And the material is worth exploring for those that aren’t familiar with him, though it may require repeated listens to fully appreciate.