Following country music is a strange thing. You can go from standing in a room of over 40s watching some acts to standing in a queue of people who are 15 years your junior and look like they’re attending a Justin Beiber concert. This Hunter Hayes show at Manchester Academy was the latter. I should point out that I am only 27 years old, if you ask me I’m in the prime of my life (ish), but standing in that queue I felt well past it.
The most interesting thing about the crowd was whether it was a direct effect of the current marketing strategy that ‘Team Hayes’ seems to be embarking on. Sickly sweet pop versions of his songs combined with appearances on Blue Peter and other kids shows have shown a clear gravitation towards this sort of crowd. Maybe the young fan base was already in place before this or maybe it’s as a result of it. It’s difficult to tell but if they were already fans before the remixed versions of songs came along then it still begs the question – why?
Before I get onto the show I have to also say that I have no problems with who turns up to a show. The more the merrier. It just makes me feel old. And a bit weird.
The show itself was in the Club Academy venue which is, in essesence, a converted basement. With the load bearing pillars and low ceilings it made it difficult to see for a lot of people and it certainly wasn’t a comfortable show to watch. This was only confirmed when watching the sound engineer struggle to get a view of the stage and figure out when Hunter had actually come on.
The show kicked off with Tattoo, the first single that Hunter released under the ‘UK release’ banner, it’s never been my favourite song but got things off to a good start. This was followed by one of my favourites in Storm Warning. Hunter played the main riff on the electric guitar which made for a much more bluesy and funky version of the tune. Great stuff.
The third song of the night was the new single 21. I have to admit that I do not like this song one bit. It feels like yet more pop driven material for the teen market and doesn’t really show off the musical acumen that Hunter possesses. The song passed me by without really stopping me in my tracks.
Considering the show was on the day that Hunter’s new UK album I Want Crazy was released the set contained all of the songs from this album including Light Me Up,Somebody’s Heartbreak, Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me and Secret Love. The one thing that must be said for Hunter’s live show is that it is heavy on the live music experience. He’s a superb guitarist and vocalist and the band around him are of the same quality so it makes for a brilliant live show. This was one of the biggest worries for Hunter’s ‘Country Fans’ who didn’t want him to leave behind the musical elements of the show to pander to the pop audience. Each member of the band was given a time to shine and it made for a superb musical showcase.
As a man Hayes comes across as incredibly humble. He seemed genuinely thrilled that so many people had packed out a venue outside London for him and you really get the feeling that this UK tour is something that he takes really seriously. Going back to the younger, fangirl element of the crowd those guys really do an amazing job of making him feel welcome and appreciated! His interaction with the crowd was spot on and the audience even managed to get a laugh out of the band at one point when a middle aged man shouted “no, marry me!” immediately following a girl shouting it – perhaps Northern audiences are going to be a different experience for the band! (Hint: Glasgow is next. Be prepared!)
The set wrapped out with the piano based Invisible and a rousing version of Wanted before closing out on the stand out I Want Crazy. As the crowd screamed and chanted the band returned to the stage for a cover (I’m not sure what song but judging from the crowd singing a long it’s in the charts at the moment) and closed on the wonderfulWhat You Gonna Do. If only Ashley Monroe had somehow appeared all the way from Nashville to lend her beautiful vocals it would have been perfect!
All in all it was a fantastic live show from Hunter and his band. They seem to be heading through the country slowly but surely giving fans a taste of their immense talent. The one thing that still, and always will, bother me is why they are releasing these ‘UK versions’ of songs and then proceeding to play the normal countrified versions live. There seems to be a big gap between the releases and the live shows which can’t be good for anyone. Not that I’m complaining about us getting a proper live show however!
Hunter will be back in the UK on the ‘Let’s Be Crazier Tour’ in October. Tickets are on sale now. Dates below: