After a scorching Wednesday night, it was in much more comfortable conditions that Melbourne welcomed their very own to the Howler stage. Funk singer-guitarist-multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Darren Hart – performing under the musical moniker Harts – needed only himself, his gear and a fit drummer to kick off his mini ‘All Rise’ Australian tour.
After such a tragic news week (the shock deaths of British arts icons David Bowie and Alan Rickman), being at a good gig was just what the doctor ordered, and it was clear from the happy-go-lucky crowd that collective fun was definitely on the agenda.
Cool, calm and collected in a leather jacket, black fedora and jeans, the 20-something Indian born prodigy looked every inch the rising star. His signature cream & swirl decorated Fender Squier Stratocaster shone under the purple-pink lights – about to prove once again that even a cheap guitar can sound expensive with the right player.
Although a keyboard/synth apparatus stood front and centre stage, Harts fans knew it was only a matter of time before the entertainer would ditch his rigid position and roam the stage, guitar always in hand. And that’s exactly what he did.
He powered through a string of originals, kicking off with ‘Angels Walk Below’ and dropping fan favourites ‘When A Man’s A Fool’, ‘Streets’, ‘Lovers In Bloom’, and the fuzz melodies of the popular 2014 single ‘Red & Blue’. The melody mimics of the guitar verses had every one closing their eyes and soaking in the beat. Two diehard Harts fans jumped in front of me to synchronise dance moves, their signed tees on full display for our benefit.
Mid solo, the trademark hat was flicked off and the trademark hair unleashed. “Mind if I play a bit of guitar?” he joked, before dropping epically to his knees for another blistering solo. Compared consistently to Jimi Hendrix for his driving funk sound, and personally praised and nurtured by Prince for his similarities, it was easy to see why Harts has become such a prominent and popular figure on the recent festival circuit.
Last year’s hit ‘Breakthrough’ got the crowd bouncing, a song that even Harts himself said is his “most popular” track to date. With an easy to remember refrain, the crowd sung a sweaty rendition for him, beaming at his dynamic lead break and pouty expressions. Then the new single dropped, ‘All Rise (Play It Cool)’. Enter a cappella chorus love fest – and I dare you to try not to dance to this one! Michael Jackson swagger meets raw funk fun, Harts crooned into his mic with impressive range before bounded and sliding across the stage throughout his splintered solos, balancing on the lip with photo-perfect rock frontman poses.
He peppered his songs with compliments for the support throughout his career so far. “I’ve been playing for seven years as Harts”, he smiled, with maybe just a tiny hint of frustration in his voice. “It’s a tough industry but thank you so much for supporting live music.”
The encore came in the form of ‘Ain’t Too Far Gone’ and a Jimi Hendrix classic, naturally, and most appropriately under the foggy purple lights it was ‘Purple Haze’. The iconic intro dropped and whoops of delight ensued, cue “excuse me while I kiss the sky” sing-a-long.
Charismatic but polite, theatrical yet grounded, Harts sits somewhere between bedroom philosopher and would-be world dominator. All rise and take note Australia, Harts is gonna play it real cool.