They say flattery gets you nowhere - but John Grant clearly knows the opposite is true. “It’s great to be back in the centre of the universe,” he said in a nod to Sheffield’s music heritage soon after taking to the stage last night at a sold-out Octagon. “The Human League, Richard Hawley, Cabaret Voltaire...”
Not that the US singer-songwriter faces a great challenge in ensuring audiences are on side. The critical acclaim for his two most recent long players - 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts and 2015’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure - means he can be guaranteed a good reception almost anywhere.
Last year’s album found him in typically erudite form, relating dramatic tales of failed relationships with men, and addictions, over grown-up ballads and offbeat synthesiser experiments.
Opening with the stately Geraldine - dedicated to method actor Geraldine Page - the set took in the mordant and brutally frank title track of Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which touches on his own HIV diagnosis (the LP’s name means ‘mid-life crisis’ in Iceland, where Grant lives, and ‘nightmare’ in Turkish), hitting an early peak with It Doesn’t Matter To Him, the singer emoting in his rich, crooning voice.
The glitchy, confrontational funk of Snug Slacks proved a little more divisive, prompting some to flee to the bar, but further treats were to come in the shape of a guest turn on guitar from Mr Hawley himself on GMF - boasting Grant’s best singalong chorus - and the danceable Disappointing. Hawley didn’t steal the limelight, but simply proved again that he’s a master accompanist - as were the rest of Grant’s well-drilled four-piece band, featuring former Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer Budgie.
Grant’s success is gaining momentum quickly, but it’s come later in life for the 47-year-old, and his heartfelt thanks after a low-key encore at the piano rang true. There’s a feeling he’s here to stay.