Royal Festival Hall – Wednesday 10th June
“I’m detached enough not to be overwhelmed but attached enough to be grateful” declares Mike Hadreas, as he sits in front of his keyboard near the end of his set at the Royal Festival Hall. He’d be forgiven if he did have an Oprah-interviewee style breakdown tonight. It’s the biggest show of his career to date, a 2,500 seater theatre on the banks of the Thames, something which would have seemed unfathomable when he released his debut album 5 years ago.
Learning was perhaps a more literal album title than it first suggested back in 2010. The album was immediately striking for the open wounds that seeped through the lyrics. It was unquestionably brave and confrontational lyrically but it didn’t necessarily sound like it. The lo-fi, shaky piano accompaniment suited his yearning vocal style but it was only a matter of time before Hadreas would outgrow this and move on to something more commanding.
That moment came last year with Too Bright, a complete about-turn in which Hadreas started beating up business men in his videos and declaring “No family is safe when I sashay” over a glam-rock track. Tonight we saw the manifestation this change and it felt utterly righteous.
Arriving on stage wearing an all-black ensemble of tapered trousers, tailored blazer, shiny heels and slicked back hair (think executive business realness) it’s soon apparent that he’s not taking any shit. As he launches into ‘My Body’, backed by a three-piece band, he struts round the expansive stage, contorting his body, lurching to the ground, pumping his arms against his chest like a voodoo doll being manipulated by his master. It’s a little bit sexy and a little bit creepy. At last, I think to myself, he’s a showman.
The heavier material from Too Bright works best at filling the cavernous space. ‘Longpig’ and ‘Fool’ pack a punch, whether that’s Hadreas’ piercing screams on the latter or the cavalcade of synths and drums of the former. ‘Grid’ is every bit as gritty and nasty as you would hope it to be whilst ‘Queen’ slays everything.
Half the set is comprised of ballads, both old and new, and they go down well with fans, especially during the encore of ‘Mr Peterson’ and ‘All Along’, however some of them feel incongruous in a space this large. Part of the emotional resonance is lost by the time it reaches the back rows, up in the heavens. This isn’t helped by the staging which feels under-prepared; a few drapes over the keyboards and a gold spotlight behind them doesn’t do justice to the occasion.
But when you see Hadreas scream and shake, he’s every bit the superstar weirdo he ought to be. He’s definitely there – it’s a faultless performance – but maybe with a few more muscular songs (and less ballads) with stage production to match it, he could be a superstar weirdo all the time.