Darren Hayman playing a set comprised entirely of Hefner songs is a big deal, not just to myself, but to the few hundred others who descend upon a bustling 100 Club tonight. It presents a decidedly rare opportunity to see Hayman doing what he does best, the songs of Hefner; the self depreciating songs about masturbation, failed propositions to blind girls, and various ‘hymns’ dedicated to alcohol, and coffee, amongst other things. Okay, so there’s been various solo releases and other projects since Hefner’s de-facto split, such as the The French, and most recently the bluegrass quartet, Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee; but, Hefner are, well, Hefner… and to most fans, Hayman simply is Hefner; the heartbroken voice and lyrical lynchpin behind ‘Britain’s Largest Small Band 1996-2002’. Chuck in Jack Hayter for good measure and you’re halfway to the real thing.
The expectation and eagerness has been mounting to a level that is almost as unhealthy as some of Hayman’s lyrical content, so much so that even the mere sight of this indie geek god in relatively close proximity to the stage creates a pronounced rise in the gleeful anticipation. Unfortunately for those, like myself, who view Hayman as eternally bespectacled, the temperature inside means that this is a strictly ‘glasses off’ show. Illusions: not quite shattered.
Things open with a trio of Hefner’s more subdued tracks comprising just Hayman on guitar and vocals, with Hayter working the lap steel guitar; a combination which pulls upon many nostalgic heartstrings present tonight, as if Hayman’s voice on its own wasn’t enough. As soon as Hayman utters the lamentful opening lines “Don’t start me on the rum…” from ‘The Hymn For The Alcohol’, almost nobody -certainly nobody who actually knows the lyrics - can resist, at the very least understatedly, singing along. The on-stage banter is predictably jovial with Hayman and Hayter, who “love Hefner, love playing Hefner songs together, but are not Hefner”, understandably happy to be playing their most well-known material to such a favourable crowd.
The two former Hefner men are soon joined by two-thirds of The Wave Pictures, Franic and Jonny, who take up residence on the rhythm section as the tone turns buoyant. Hayman, as ever, awkwardly wields his guitar to the bouncy, bass-driven ‘The Hymn For The Cigarettes’ and the disgustingly frank ‘Hello Kitten’; seeing, and hearing, hordes of people, male and female, sing along to “I’m gonna make myself go blind tonight” is a surreal, but at all times delightful, experience. With The Fidelity Wars’ recent extended and expanded re-release, it is no surprise to hear so much of it on show, as over half of it is tonight.
To list many more highlights in any kind of detail would border on excess, as nearly every song is a gem, but ‘The Sad Witch’ sees Hayman’s voice pushed to its limit, and things are finally, after a slew of sing-alongs, rounded off with ‘A Hymn For The Postal Service’, where Hayman’s remorseful and painfully fragile voice carries as much weight as it ever has. The only negative of the whole performance: Hayman sporting a The French t-shirt. Bad form indeed, but it’s a minor offence which I’m sure most will overlook tonight.
[Taken from Drowned in Sound]