Opening our final day of the KEXP broadcast live from KEX Hostel at Iceland Airwaves is singer-songwriter John Grant. Though he is currently based in Iceland, he is one of only two American acts featured on this year’s broadcast. Grant first gained notoriety as the lead singer of Denver-based shoegaze/alt-country band The Czars. When the band broke up in 2004, he struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter, recording Queen of Denmark with help from Midlake. After he played Airwaves in 2011, he stayed in Iceland to record his second album Pale Green Ghosts, which was produced by Icelandic musician Biggi Veira (Gus Gus).
The house packed out early with festival-goers eagerly anticipating what was sure to be a stellar set. Grant opened with “Vietnam,” from his latest album Pale Green Ghosts. The bass shook the floors, and the hushed instrumentation really allowed his operatic baritone voice to shine.
Next was “GMF” (the name of which he changed to “Greatest Living Creature” to make it more radio-appropriate). The music was piano-driven in an Elton John-esque way, with the lyrics lamenting his own faults. “Marz” was about Grant’s favorite soda fountain in his hometown, but the dramatic style of the song turned what seemed to be a whimsical childhood memory into something akin to the climax of an opera.
Things picked up a bit with “Pale Green Ghosts,” which was a little more upbeat, and had a striking narrative that makes you feel like you’re walking into the middle of a dramatic plot. Spacey sci-fi sounds were interspersed between verses of Grant’s soaring voice.
The set ended with “Blackbelt,” a song with a fast, driving beat and vocals that are a little less operatic and a little more Rock & Roll. If this crowd were nursing drinks instead of hangovers, this would have been quite the dance party.