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Friday, Jan. 7, 2011

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When Hurts took the stage at the Chiba leg of 2010's Summer Sonic for their first ever Japan show, they surely could not have predicted the reception that awaited them. With their debut album still under wraps and nary a note yet released in Japan, this fast-rising British duo somehow wrangled a large audience for their Saturday afternoon set (and again at the next day's Osaka leg) — and then proceeded to leave them slack jawed.

Drawing on the rich musical tradition of their hometown, Manchester (think The Smiths, Joy Division and The Fall), but also on the pop reverence of the decade of their birth (the 1980s, and specifically Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and Crowded House), Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson craft warm, densely layered songs in autumnal hues.

Written largely in retreat from the rain, debut album "Happiness" was released to broad acclaim in September, 2010 (with a heap of bonus tracks on November's Japan version), and the aching melodies of singles such as "Sunday" and "Stay" have become instant anthems both at home and away. Though the album wasn't always as strong as its singles, a duet with Kylie Minogue on "Devotion" didn't exactly hurt their profile, and recent single "All I Want For Christmas is New Year's Day" did brisk business in Britain over the holidays.

Live, a tuxedoed Hutchcraft, Anderson and backing band bring these songs to magnificent life, with huge synth swells providing a bed for Hutchcraft's rich, melodramatic vocals. Physical movement is minimal; rather than strike poses or throw shapes, they instead let the songs take center stage. It's a wise move, since Hurts' classic approach to songwriting means their tunes stand up to scrutiny on stage just as in recorded form.

Though the surprise may have now faded, Hurts' forthcoming headline shows in Osaka and Tokyo promise to re-create the understated spectacle of those triumphant Summer Sonic appearances. Japan has clutched "Happiness" to its bosom, and fans are primed and ready to sing along.

Hurts play Shinsaibashi Club Quattro in Osaka on Jan. 13 (¥5,000); Duo Exchange in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Jan. 14-15 (¥5,000). For more information, visit www.informationhurts.com.

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