Antony_HegartyIt's one of the many quirks of Antony Hegarty's career that, almost four years after his Mercury prize win, things that once seemed extraordinary about him have become strangely normal. Live, you expect there to be an element of makeup-spattered performance art, which there is: one of his old Manhattan cohorts does a dance to In the Hall of the Mountain King.

You expect the concert to be beautifully staged, which it is. You never notice the lighting at rock shows, unless a spotlight falls off the gantry and hospitalises the bass player, but this is quite the most beautifully lit gig you could wish for. The band cast dramatic shadows on the back wall of the stage, and the show begins with Hegarty's voice ringing out from a stygian gloom, which you also somehow expect: it fits with the aura of high seriousness that surrounds his songs. Even the T-shirts on the merchandise stall bear the legend "CRYING".

And yet Hegarty is still capable of springing surprises, not least his extensive knowledge of west Sussex: "Anyone from Arundel?" asks the singer, born in Chichester. "What about Midhurst? I went to pre-school in Worthing." Perhaps it's the proximity to his birthplace, or the fact that Brighton is, as he puts it "quite a fruity city", but he seems in an oddly frivolous mood, interrupting For Today I Am a Boy after a few lines with an anecdote about his conception. Bantering with the audience, he is charming and funny, which throws his music into sharp relief.

Hegarty's singing voice sounds unfamiliar and remarkable once more: songs from his latest album, The Crying Light, which seemed a little slender on record, suddenly bulk up on stage. He has an enviable ability to turn the mood around in short order. The audience go from laughing to rapt, never more so than during a spellbinding version of I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy. The song pauses midway through: for what seems like an age, the venue is utterly silent. "They didn't teach me that in Worthing," Hegarty says with a smile as the song ends and the audience erupt.

Article by Alexis Petridis. The Guardian - Saturday 23rd May 2009