Harts @ The Elephant Hotel, 10th July

The Elephant Hotel has a laid-back, boozy, boys-night-out kind of feel. The venue stretches out into several different compartments, from a DJ clumsily smushing Top 40 hits together in the beer garden to the open plan but intimate stage area, crowded with bearded men of all ages. We arrive just as the second opener, Sans Parents, begin their set, and we slip through the crowds towards the stage, removing all the winter layers we had on during the journey here; it’s a million degrees inside.

Sans Parents start off with a garagey-rock vibe, loud and heavy in the drum and guitar. As so often happens in Valley venues, they are let down by a fuzzy sound system, which blurs their songs into noisy three-minute instrument collisions. It’s not that they’re not talented (they are) or that their sound is unexciting (it isn’t), but the combination of the chatty, packed-in crowd and poor mixing somehow reduces them to background music.

We have a drink outside until we spy Harts setting up through the big glass pane between the stage area and garden. We wander inside and are hit immediately by intensity from all sides; the venue is crammed to bursting, smells like the sixth day of a festival, and has reached surface-of-the-sun temperatures. We fight our way to a central spot, just in time to see Harts saunter onstage, oozing pure Cool in a black blazer and big, wild hair. It’s just him and a drummer, an unusual and challenging setup.  From the get-go Harts is utterly slick, switching from pre-recorded layers, loops he makes onstage, live playing (of bass, guitar, keys, and pretty much everything else) and overlaying it all with strong, passionate vocals. The audience is instantly electrified by his rock-stardom – he coolly asks “do you mind if I play my guitar?” before sinking into solos on his knees, writhing feverishly – and the crowd dances madly, one unified, gyrating mess.

Lovers in Bloom attracts a rousing chorus from the audience, but most of his other songs are blended and toyed with onstage, as Harts leaps from atmospheric synth lead-ups to guitar breakdowns, drum solos, vocal calls, and back again. It’s a throwback to 70s blues-rock, with vocals cleanly matching guitar melodies over funky bass slaps and a more-than-healthy dose of pure charisma, although Harts doesn’t fail to warmly thank the audience time and time again for their support of both him and live music in general.

The set necessarily dips towards the middle, as he brings out some slower, more 80s-style synth-based tunes, which don’t quite hit the same rock n’ roll nerves as the rest of his set. The audience bob along regardless, but resumes their crazed dancing when Harts brings up the tempo again, finishing the set with an electric guitar solo played exclusively behind his head. The entire set is expertly performed, but I can’t help imaging the magic that would be Harts leading a full funk band – hopefully that lies somewhere in the future.

The track finishes to rapturous applause. Eventually, we pour out of the venue, sweating and elated, exhausted and utterly electrified.

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