Hurts - Manchester O2 Apollo
I was dubious, maybe even a bit cynical. Biased for certain. Say the word "synth" to me and immediately my mind conjures up cold, soulless blippy-songs performed by straight-faced, monochrome-clad robots. Maybe it's alright to listen to, but would you really want to see this kind of thing live? Pas moi. I admit I wasn't all too familiar with Manchester's Hurts before tonight. A few snatches of their tunes on the radio; it seemed alright for what it was.
So when 'Mercy', from new album Exile, commenced, the duo dressed in identical black, Theo Hutchcraft's impossibly beautiful face masked by the hood of his designer anorak, I was expecting to be bored stiff. Hutchcraft perched by his mic stand, Adam Anderson sat at his keyboard, I thought 'Great - 83 and half more minutes of this.' Then the notes of the infectious 'Miracle' rang out like a church bell and the band seemed to come to life. Anorak off. Hutchcraft immediately engages with the crowd, working the stage like a prowling tom cat. With the added power of a proper backing band, the songs take on even great vigour than their recorded versions. From then on it's a barrage of great tunes - a few even I have heard of! - like the infectious 'Wonderful Life' and 'Stay'.
The set included the popular love songs, perfectly suited to Hutchcraft's crystal-clear vocals; the best of these being the lovely 'Evelyn' and the riveting 'Unspoken'. Yet the band really seem to shine with the darker, slightly more sinister tunes such as 'Cupid' and super sexy 'Exile', the heavy beats of the drums and Anderson's guitar adding power and menace to Hutchcraft's smooth delivery. Later, Hutchcraft and Anderson approach the crowd for an acoustic rendition of one of their earlier songs 'Blood, Tears & Gold', Hutchcraft saying how the duo had lived around the corner from the venue, dreaming of one day performing there. "It's good to be home," he tells the audience. It is a touching moment, the duo visibly moved by the hometown crowd's ecstatic reception.
The night closed with a two-song encore: 'Better Than Love' and the subdued 'Help', Hutchcraft throwing roses to the adoring crowd like Rudy Valentino. From sceptic to converted, this excellent performance left me eager to become better acquainted with the band's back catalogue. No longer will the word 'synth' hold any fear for me.
Setlist: Mercy, Miracle, Silver Lining, Wonderful Life, Somebody to Die For, Blind, Evelyn, Cupid, Unspoken, The Crow, Blood, Tears & Gold (acoustic), Exile, Sandman, Sunday, Stay, Illuminated, The Road
Encore: Better Than Love, Help