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Best tunes of 2013: #28 John Grant “Pale green ghosts”

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I’ve said it before on these pages and I’ll likely say it again. The lot of the opening act is a tough gig.

At the risk of dating myself here*, I’ve been going to see live music for almost three decades now and pretty much for every show to which I’ve ever been, I’ve arrived early enough to catch the lion’s share of, if not the entire set by the opening act. And I’ve been rewarded with some excellent performances for my efforts. I’ve discovered way more great bands in this way than I have had to suffer through forgettable sets. In some cases, I’ve even walked away from shows having been more impressed by the opening act.**

My practice these days, as it has been ever since music streaming has become a thing, is actually to sample the opening artist’s wares in advance of the gig and if it sounds promising, give it a proper chance to sink in beforehand. Such was the case back in the early spring of 2014, when I purchased tickets to see Elbow playing at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. I made it a point to check out the latest album by the solo artist starting things off.

I had never heard tell of American singer-songwriter John Grant before, nor had I heard of the alternative rock band that he had fronted for over a decade called The Czars. He had just released his sophomore album the year before, recorded with one half of electronic duo GusGus, it was apparently a bit of a departure from his first solo album. The opening track is of the same name as the album title and is the stark wake up call one would think it might be to long-time listeners.

“Pale green ghosts must take great care,
Release themselves into the air
Reminding me that I must be aware”

It is six minutes of rumbling tribal beats run through all kinds of digital distortion and augmented by bleats of synthesized horns blown by heartless robots. It is suffocating and intense and harrowing. And through it all is jaunty John Grant singing breathlessly and with purpose but in that whiplash-inducing voice that is inescapable and that commands such a presence. What a voice indeed.

*It’s probably too late.

**I made a playlist a couple of years ago inspired by all the great opening acts I’ve seen.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2013 list, click here.

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