In a move reminiscent of David Bowie killing off Ziggy Stardust, Darren Hart, better known to the world as Harts, announced at Bluesfest this year that 2018 would be “the last year for Harts”. No-one knew what to make of the statement, since Harts has become a rising star in the international music scene, and already has two albums in the pipeline for later this year. Tonight at Howler, he finally silenced the speculators by presenting a work-in-progress version of his new show, with a 5-piece backing band, new songs and his own unique take on music.
Taking to the stage alongside his band mates in unceremonious fashion, Harts launched into a selection of familiar tunes to remind the audience that he’s still the wide-eyed talented kid who took the world by storm just a few years ago. “Smoke” “When A Man’s A Fool” and “Lovers In Bloom” all have unique characteristics, and showcase his amazing composition skills. This was followed by a selection of new tracks including recent singles “19&21” and “Ain’t Nothing On Me”, as well as the title track from his next album “Queens, Kings And All Living Things.”
The first half of the show featured a new rhythm section, alongside Harts’ former keyboard player and two new horn players. All the players onstage had serious chops, and during one of the new songs, a full breakdown was included to let each individual musician shine for a brief period.
Harts himself was noticeably nervous in the vocal department, but his guitar playing was on another level. A master of his craft, he switched seamlessly between clean funky rhythms and furious lead lines, all the while moving about the stage with swagger and intensity.
My biggest problem with Harts is that his show has always featured a heavy emphasis on sampling and backing tracks. Tonight was no exception, even when there were six musicians onstage. Fortunately because of the extra musicians, and Harts’ own spontaneity in his playing, the samples didn’t distract too much from what was being played live, and when the samples did fail, it gave the show a little more humanity.
The second half of the show featured the ‘Harts Trio’ that toured behind Smoke Fire Hope Desire. Drummer Craig Luekber and bassist Abel Mazo are childhood friends of Harts, and as a result of touring together throughout 2016/17, they’ve built up an amazing chemistry as a band. Horn players Samuel Winter and Finn Bradley also jumped back onstage for a couple of numbers, adding some raw texture to the old songs with new counterpoint lines and pads.
After an hour and a half of music, Harts detuned his guitar and brought all his musicians back onstage, before launching into his Hendrix-esque anthem “Power”, which went on for at least fifteen minutes, incorporating a mini-cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. When the time finally came to say goodbye, Harts left us all with some words of motivation, telling us to put in the hours, and not to give up on chasing our musical dreams.
Compared to other gigs I’ve been to recently, the audience was somewhat reserved tonight, choosing to stand back and take in the music rather than break out into a mosh or sing along at the top of their lungs. This is possibly a reflection on Harts’ reputation in the musical world, where more people know him for his story and accolades rather than for his actual music. I can only hope that more general music listeners wake up and listen to this amazing, intricate pop-music that does a great job of combining modern instrumentation with classic rock guitar and retro 80’s synths.
Despite the hiccups that are expected with any warm-up/trial show, the future of Harts is in good hands, and all the new music played tonight stood up incredibly well alongside the songs from the back catalogue. There’s still a lot of development that needs to be done to the Harts’ live show, presence and his music, but I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product(s) hopefully later this year.
Now, if we could just do something about those samples…