After months of teasing with visits to England and ‘UK release’ EP and single Hunter Hayes finally played his first show at London’s Borderline venue on Friday 20th March 2015.
The choice of venue was an interesting one but perhaps a sign of just how cautious his team have been in their attempts to break into the UK market (the 275 capacity venue is one of the smallest they could have chosen). We have made no secret of the fact that his singles in this country have been reworked to fit a more ‘pop’ market and the television shows he has appeared on including Blue Peter and Sunday Bruch seemed to fit a more mainstream demographic. For that reason we had been worried as to how this could affect his live shows. We were desperate to get Hunter to this country but not at the cost of having to watch a ‘watered down’ version of his songs. Thankfully this just wasn’t the case.
Before the show fans were equipped with light up wristbands to wear which were to be linked to the Hunter Hayes tour app. The cynical side of me thought that this was just a smart marketing ploy to get details on each member of the crowd but it turned out to add a superb element to the show. The lights all flashing on in unison during different songs with different colours to fit the mood.
The Borderline itself is a ‘cosy’ venue to say the least. People seemed to know that it would fill up quickly and so the queue was forming from early in the evening – we managed to get ourselves stood just in front of the sound desk with a decent view of the stage. Once we were there we weren’t getting out in a hurry.
The show opened with Hunters latest ‘UK single’ Light Me Up which was an energetic start and also helped to fix any kinks in the sound – it seemed like the vocals were being slightly drowned out to me but that was quickly fixed. As the song got going our light up wristbands went crazy and made for a great atmosphere.
As Hayes moved into the set he switched between just singing, playing mandolin and electric and acoustic guitars. Hunter Hayes musical talent is never in doubt. He really is a jack of all trades and is damn good at each of them!
One particular highlight of mine was the electric version of Storm Warning which kicked off with a
John Mayer-esque bluesy guitar intro before really getting going. The song itself came early on in the
set and seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce his guitar playing chops to some new fans.
It was clear to the crowd, and we say this every time an American act debuts over here, that the band
were in awe of the fact that every member of the crowd was singing the words to every song. Hunter
commented on how it was the most unbelievable experience to him that his fans knew all of the
words to the songs from both of his records. I often wonder whether there is somebody out there
who is telling these American acts that the British fans don’t know or care about their music. That
couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe it’s just the men in suits who don’t stand to make enough
cash from a UK tour who try to put off the likes of Hunter from coming over.
The set itself included a lot of songs from Storyline and a handful from his debut record. It ranged
from the upbeat and rocky in Wildcard, the breezy Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me to the moody You Think You Know Somebody, a song in which Hunter asked the fans to try and be angry for a moment. Something which I’m sure a lot of the fans who were screaming away in Dreamland weren’t able to do with much conviction! Even Hunter didn’t seem convinced he could do that but that’s down to the fact that he really is one of the nicest guys you’ll see play live.
The charisma that Hunter Hayes brings to the stage is a huge part of the enjoyment of the show. I’ve said it before but it makes a huge difference to the crowd when the person playing is as excited to be there as you. He spoke with great enthusiasm about his time in the UK and how welcoming he has found the country. He also let slip plans for a four date tour in May which we will go into more detail about at the end of the review.
One of the biggest reactions of the night was for Wanted. This slow burning love song had the entire crowd singing and swaying along and even generated some hype on social media from British act The Shires who were in the crowd (I didn’t realise until a group of fan girls cut me up chasing after them when I was trying to get to the toilet!).
The show lasted two hours and throughout the band never really let up in its energy and spent the whole show looking like they were having the times of their lives. Aside from the fact that they were squeezed onto a stage roughly a tenth of the size of their usual stage. Hunter did point out that he was also using a throat spray, perhaps at the end of a hard week of promo, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on the quality of his vocals.
As the set drew to a close Hunter performed his cover of the One Republic song Counting Stars which was originally written by Ryan Tedder who is currently helping Hunter with his next full album. Love Makes Me was probably my least favourite of the night but maybe that was because I had peeked at the set list on the sound desk and knew what was coming next… I Want Crazy. This was the last song of the night and ended in the crowd singing most of the song for Hunter. There seemed to be a genuinely disbelief in his face as he held the microphone out to his adoring audience to sing along.
All in all it was an incredibly successful first toe in the water for Hunter Hayes in the UK. The set was as musical as existing Hunter fans could ask with a full band and a bevy of instruments on show but also hit all of the right notes for new fans. I don’t think we will ever see Hunter enter the UK as a ‘country artist’ and the way he is being marketed is probably a smart idea if they want to open him up to a wider audience and, ultimately, make more money. The crowd at The Borderline and the time it took to sell out did however prove that there is already a huge support for his music in this country beyond the young, pop loving audience that they’re trying to attract. There were still enough checked shirts and cowboy boots in the audience to suggest that he would always be a welcome addition at Country 2 Country or any other festival of that sort.
For now we will wait until his next UK tour in May. Dates below:
Friday 22/5/2015 – London, Koko
Saturday 23/5/2015 – Birmingham, The Institute
Monday 25/5/2015 – Manchester, Club Academy
Tuesday 26/5/2015 – Glasgow, Oran Mor
Tickets are available here: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/feature/hunterhayes/?l=en-us&language=en-us&tm_link=tm_homeA_2_f1