'Anyone here from Sheffield," inquired Yorkshire balladeer Richard Hawley at the start of his show on Thursday night. When incredulously greeted by a forest of hands and enthusiastic shouts from the crowd, he quipped: "I don't know why I bothered to come all this way."
Two hours later, every soul in the crowded hotel was counting their lucky stars that they'd turned out to witness the former Pulp guitarist and his accomplished four-piece band turn in a blindingly brilliant performance.
This was the first time the 45-year-old English singer/songwriter, best known for his six albums of crooned love songs, had brought his own band to Australia.
Despite confessing that he was under the weather after giving up smoking a month ago - he rolled up his sleeve to display a nicotine patch - he proved to be in ridiculously good form.
Drawing mainly on material from his latest album, the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Standing at the Sky's Edge, his smooth weathered voice growled its way through a varied set of meditative, bittersweet love songs that included the beautiful Lady Solitude and Coles Corner. He also swathed his voice with echo for the extended sonic adventures of new songs Down in the Woods and Leave Your Body Behind You that build into terrific walls of distortion and feedback.
Throughout the show, Hawley proved his reputation as a superbly inventive guitarist - Elbow have enlisted his services - by trading layers of swirling psychedelic guitar and corrosive feedback with his band mate of 14 years Shez Sheridan. At times, it was like listening to Neil Young fronting Crazy Horse.
Coming back for two encores, the man recently nominated as best male artist at the 2013 Brit Awards seemed genuinely heartened by the warmth of the audience's reception.His performance proved him worthy of his burgeoning success.
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