O2 Academy Brixton, Friday 4th November
Twenty-one months ago, [a]Hurts[/a] played their debut UK gig, in tiny St Philip’s Church in Salford, attended by a smattering of curious journos and industry folk. Now look at them, playing the final show of the ‘[b]Happiness[/b]’ world tour at a sold-out [b]O2 Brixton Academy[/b]. In the intervening time the duo have grown from opinion-dividing curios into one of our biggest and best-loved bands. They’ve sold a million singles and a shade off a million albums, filled arenas everywhere from Iceland to Estonia, and been impersonated badly on endless dodgy foreign versions of [i]The X Factor[/i].
Tonight is the classic triumphant homecoming. The crowd’s ear-bleeding adulation never lets up, but is there a sense – and I’m just playing devil’s advocate here – in which [a]Hurts[/a] were actually better as no-hopers, a major label folly destined for glorious failure? Originally the [a]Hurts[/a] live experience consisted of two blokes, a seven-foot-tall opera singer named Richard, and a backing tape. Now there are 11 people onstage, including two dancers. It’s all a bit slick. Yes, even for [a]Hurts[/a]. And… hang on, where’s the opera singer? Poor massive Richard is gone!
Theo sings all the parts himself (including Richard’s former showpiece, ‘[b]Verona[/b]’). I picture Richard at home alone, weeping into his cummerbund to the strains of ‘[b]Nessun Dorma[/b]’. In the end, having a stony-faced and mostly extraneous opera singer onstage was one of the ludicrous touches that made [a]Hurts[/a] unique and lovable. By ditching Richard they are approximately 12 per cent less ridiculous, and that’s a shame.
Highlights? Well, obviously ‘[b]Stay[/b]’ and closer ‘[b]Better Than Love[/b]’. Almost two years of touring have whittled them into surging pop Exocets, obliterating all possible opposition or reservation. Low point? Kylie showing up to duet on ‘[b]Devotion[/b]’ and her own ‘[b]Confide In Me[/b]’. Of course, she gets a hurricane-strength welcome, but her appeal remains mysterious. She’s a blank, a hamster squeak, a whiff of Febreze.
When it’s all over there’s no farewell speech, no recognition that this gig is in any way special. Perhaps they’re saving themselves for the aftershow (the next day Theo tweets about “the greatest night of our lives… a collapsing Dutch supermodel and about 1,000 bottles of tequila… the perfect crescendo”). This makes an enjoyable and efficient full stop at the end of ‘[b]Happiness[/b]’, but no more than that.