Friday, October 08, 2010

Hurts / Performance @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 7th September 2010

Hurts 'Better Than Love' from Trim Editing on Vimeo.

Somewhere deep in the heart of Manchester a team of scientists have been busily working on a top secret project. Not for them a cure for cancer or the recipe for a new biofuel ...hell no...their mission was a darn sight more important than that. The rebirth of classy 80’s pop. After pumping in all of the relevant technical data to ZX Spectrum (48k naturally) they came up with Hurts.

Before we see the results for ourselves however there’s just time for Performance...the band that is. Fronted by rising literary star Joe Stretch they’ve been around a few years now and have seemingly been through several line up changes, splits, record labels, pairs of get the picture. On paper everything looks good. A decent lyricist, a dark synthy heart and an axe wielding blonde. As a live performance it was a little more hit and miss, with the odd bum note and some slightly awkward stage moves. Perhaps the various breaks over the years and extracurricular activities have left the band a little rusty in places? It seemed to work best when Joe and Laura sang together though and, as the set went on, things settled down a bit more reaching a respectable climax with a track called ‘The Living’, replete with a decent rallying shout along ‘Hey! Hey!’ bit.

In stark contrast to Performance’s slightly ragged show Hurts were, from start to finished, as polished and perfect as their records and videos suggested they’d be. Heralded by a nice snatch of violins and cellos Theo and Adam, dressed impeccably in suits (although Adams’s trousers were about 6 inches too short...maybe that’s the fashion in Manchester these days?) were joined by a drummer, keyboard player and backing vocalist (more on him later) and flanked by what looked like shower cubicles at the back of the stage. Dead artistic that. Bathed in blue light the set kicked off with ‘Unspoken’, strings and sparse piano giving way to pounding drums that in turn rose to a crescendo before dropping away, leaving Theo’s soaring vocals and the odd plink plonk of Adam’s keyboard. The song built again, the impact of the reintroduction of the strings recalling David Arnold’s ‘Play Dead’. Wow. If you’re going to do sophisti-pop then you’ve got to go all out and embrace the sheer theatricality of it all. And from the opening number it was clear that’s just what they were going to do. The evening’s equally epic second track, ‘Silver Lining’ gave Mr Backing Vocalist something to do. Who is that fella? Cracking voice. In this song he gave us some nice deep booming Russian Army style choruses (think Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’), but at various times through the evening he hit some pretty high notes too, as well as delivering a little opera. What a range. Maybe those scientists in Manchester built him too?

For 80’s pop anoraks the entire set was a dream. Ooohhh there’s a bit of The Human League, that’s a little Depeche Mode...there’s some Black...and some ABC...Pet Shop Boys...hmmm... a little Johnny Hates Jazz too. ‘Wonderful Life’ lived up to its title (although I did miss the dancing girl in the video), ‘Blood, Tears and Gold’ got me reaching for my imaginary lighter (it’s just designed for one of those lighters in the air moments) and a Kylie Minogue-less ‘Devotion’ inspired the band to cover ‘Confide In Me’ (giving Theo the chance to let his own inner opera singer out during the choruses). Stylish to the last Theo’s suit remained on throughout the show, buttoned up even, despite the heat up there. “Big mistake wearing this” he declared half way through. Yeah, but can you imagine seeing them any other away? It just wouldn’t work. Respect due for the little theatrical flourishes he put in too. Plenty of ‘hands to heaven’ moments and some nice little flicks of the microphone lead. Tony Bennett would be proud of you son.

It was the last track of the night, ‘Better Than Love’ that really got the juices flowing though. Inspiring a mass clap along this is Hurts on speed. It’s everything that’s great about this band in 3 minutes. Classy pop you can drink, dance and...ahem...make lurve to. Proof that you should always save the best to last. No encore. How could you top that? I’m so glad they didn’t try.

At times this evening you really got the sense that Theo can’t believe how well things are going. In just over a year he’s gone from signing on to signing autographs. Noting that there were “quite a few ladies around tonight” I’m guessing he’s becoming a bit of a pop pin up too (if only Smash Hits was still going). What’s not to love eh girls? He dresses like a million dollars, he writes love songs and he’s immaculately well groomed (he even threw a comb out to the audience towards the end of the set...I guess he thought a few of us could do with a wash and brush up).

The 80’s were awash with sophisticated, glamorous, grown up pop bands, but they’re a rarity these days. That’s why, although Hurts might not be true originals, in today’s frequently insipid, throwaway, ringtone driven mainstream music scene they’re still a real breath of fresh air.

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