BOULDER, Colorado Ed Harcourt brought the rain on tour with him.
The skies opened up during his Saturday night performance, when a modest crowd of both the curious and the converted braved a gloomy evening in order to catch an abbreviated set from the London troubadour in the historic and intimate Tulagi theater. Considering the gray-skied feeling that radiates from Harcourt's music, the weather seemed like an appropriate backdrop for his live show.
Since the release of his first full-length album, Here Be Monsters, Harcourt's been likened to The The's Matt Johnson, Badly Drawn Boy's Damon Gough and nearly every other songwriter who shares his penchant for moody melodies. Most of the time, Harcourt writes dreamy, sensitive music about love, girls and what it's like to be young and angst-ridden. He sings beautifully, often in falsetto, and plays piano as well as about 10 other instruments. Harcourt's music is the perfect soundtrack to a good mope: It is contemplative and lovely, sad and pleasantly self-indulgent.
But it also sometimes rocks with roots in everything from jazz and Brit-pop to blues and musical theater. Which might explain why Harcourt was moved to kick his leg up on a floor monitor, raise his hand in the air (configured in the universal "rock on" symbol) and move about the floor at various points during the show, which was the third date on his regional tour of the United States. Sporting a fittingly unkempt bed-head style do, torn jeans, and a cheetah strap on his guitar, Harcourt leapt right into the spotlight: He rode onto the stage on the back of his tour manager, piggyback style, before jumping into his seat behind an electric piano, where he remained for most of the night.
While Harcourt's early performances were characterized by all manner of curious props and even the occasional thrashing of this piano, Saturday's appearance was simple and straightforward though not without its less-than-serious moments. Backed by an excellent band that included a stand-up bassist and the polymorphous instrumentals of the stoically faced Gerry Atkins who manned trumpet, vibraphone, xylophone and various percussive instruments Harcourt performed material primarily culled from Here Be Monsters, including "God Protect Your Soul," a wonderfully chaotic and jazzy number that served as the emotional climax of the show, and the ballad-like "Apple of My Eye," which closed it. Showcasing some of the virtuosity that has made him a darling of the British music media during the past six months, Harcourt occasionally took turns on electric and acoustic guitars. With no trace of irony, he assumed a center-stage straddle and a rock star affectation on "Shanghai," a song that attempts a Tom Waits-esque kind of carnival sound but ends up sounding more cartoonish than crazed. More successful was the breathy, acoustic "Sleepyhead." The song, Harcourt said, "is just about being tired ... which we're not, of course."
Throughout the evening, Harcourt did his best to bridge some cultural divides with the audience, professing his love for America even while expressing some exasperation at what it's like to travel here.
"We've been through a lot of your airports," he said. "We've been searched a lot. I haven't gotten the full-body cavity search yet. I'm sort of looking forward to it, really,"
If Harcourt at times seemed more excited about his performance than did the crowd, he can be forgiven: He's got plenty of reasons to feel confident these days. He's young, talented and attractive, with a winning album and a warm critical reception. Harcourt is reminiscent of the equally prodigious Ryan Adams, with whom he shares a fashion sense, a current it-boy status and most importantly a knack for crafting both clever lyrics and stick-to-the-brain melodies. Judging by his performance, Harcourt will have plenty to offer audiences for a good, long while even after the hype inevitably begins to die down.
Following his show, Harcourt was rushed by fans in Tulagi's lobby. One young woman asked how long he expects to be on the road in support of Here Be Monsters. He looked at her and laughed: "Forever," he replied. For their part, Boulder fans will be excited to see him return. They can use the rain.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.