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29th February 2024

Matt Maltese’s Broken Hearts Club live in Manchester: ‘I forget if I ever loved anyone else’

Emotions run high at Academy 2 with a moving set from Matt Maltese in Valentine’s week
Matt Maltese’s Broken Hearts Club live in Manchester: ‘I forget if I ever loved anyone else’
@ Frankie Austick

“Is there anyone here who’s in love?” asks Liana Flores, sitting in a single spotlight at the front of the stage, her nylon-stringed guitar the only border between her and the crowd; a few moments later, “Is there anyone here who’s completely alone?” With these two questions, Liana had successfully identified the two groups within the Academy audience. She was the perfect prelude. ‘Liana Flores: 8:15 Matt Maltese: 9:15’ read the venue posters lining the steps and the hall, a quiet proclamation of the presence of two of Britain’s finest new New Romantics – two performers with the ability to harness raw emotion in songwriting and performance quite unlike any of their contemporaries.

There is a certain aura surrounding Liana Flores – a ‘je ne sais quoi’ – as she serenades a hushed, intrigued crowd. It is such that the best description I can give is that she has the distinct impression of someone who might have been a victim of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Liana sits alone, playing an enchanting set, all major seventh and augmented chords. Bossa nova meets bedroom pop; music to make you feel like you’re somewhere where it’s warm, you’re safe, and it smells of coffee.

Anna Marsden @ The Mancunion

Soon, all too soon, Flores floats off stage with a, “Thank you, enjoy Matt.” Thankfully she would return later, for a duet with Matt covering Darlene McCrea’s ‘My Heart’s Not In It’. The 20 minutes in which the stage was bare of our romantic leads were no less filled with feeling, however, as the intermission was filled with the sounds of classically soppy 50s/60s doo-wop, Bobby Helm’s ‘My Special Angel’ accompanying Flores’ departure.

9:15 rolls around and, as the posters predicted, Matt Maltese appears, flanked by his drummer, his Stetson-wearing bass player, ‘Harry’ (who we were told plays everything else, from synth to lead guitar), and takes his seat front and centre behind his piano keyboard. The first bass notes of ‘You Deserve an Oscar’ thud out into the crowd, and the set begins.

It’s February 17; Valentine’s Day is fresh in the minds of Manchester’s young lovers, and love, in its many forms, is certainly the theme of the evening. True, unrequited, ill-fated, the Matt Maltese repertoire covers many emotional bases. ‘Curl Up and Die’ is up at the top of the set, surely one of the most devastating breakup songs ever written – Maltese has a ridiculous amount of contenders in that category, it should be noted – and for the first, but not last time, the crowd switches from being content to simply swoon to Matt’s soft timbre, and the hall of Academy 2 is treated to a choir of strained vocal cords joining his.

“You’re the only one makes me wanna go home, and curl up, and die!”

There is a dichotomy to the evening, opposing strains of togetherness and heartbreak running not just through the music, but in the very crowd around me. Of course, with any music of this nature, there’s the archetypal pair or group of teenaged girls holding hands and screaming along to some of the sadder numbers, lamenting the breakdown of their year 11 relationship, but there also are groups of fully grown men, who, during ‘Less and Less’ perhaps momentarily forget themselves, their lager, and their masculine front, and develop a misty, faraway look in the eyes. A girl next to me begins crying at this point.

Amongst these wistfully sombre scenes, however, young love is alive and well. From my position on stage left I can turn and look all the way down the Academy wall to the bar, a wall lined with kissing couples, leant up against the brick. The crowd too seems to sway with pairs. There are, in fact, a few moments between numbers, or even between notes, that the audience’s reverent hush is broken only by the sound of kisses (as heartwarming as it is disconcerting). It seems somewhat unintuitive, seeing loved-up couples singing to each other these songs centred around pain and heartbreak.

Perhaps there is a catharsis to it? I can’t help but feel however, a certain sense of foreshadowing, but if (God forbid) some of the couples in front of Matt don’t survive the spring, those songs will take on an even deeper meaning for the individual, and become even more heart-wrenching than they already are.

Later in the set, Maltese covers Sixpence None the Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’, a song which, had I known no better, I would’ve thought to be one of his own, so well is it suited to his style. ‘Kiss Me’ is one of many tunes to be covered in Matt’s upcoming release, Songs That Aren’t Mine. At this point, the girl who was crying earlier kissed the boy she was with on the cheek.

@ Frankie Austick

Matt ends the set with arguably his most well-known song ‘As the World Caves In’, a song which, had those in attendance been sat on their own in a dark room, might spur a classic get-into-fetal-position-and-cry moment, but, surrounded by like-minded fans, becomes a scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs anthem. Hundreds of phones come up as he announces the song, as they are known to do for songs which have done the rounds on TikTok, but by the third verse most are back in pockets as people choose to fully savour the moment as much as possible. There have been few moments in live music in which I have witnessed quite such an outpouring of emotion from a crowd as the crescendo of that song.

Maltese’s music contains a blissful symbiosis, one mirrored in the crowd. Yes, he sings of heartbreak, but he in no way reduces the idea of love. His performance and words highlight, in fact, that one cannot exist without the other. The old Morrissy-an adage springs to mind: “Two lovers entwined pass me by, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” Everyone in the crowd seemed in one of those camps. Perhaps, however, Maltese’s own line from ‘Krystal’ sums up best how his music made the audience feel, “I forget if I ever loved anyone else,” poignant, regardless of that person’s presence.

Harry Sharples

Harry Sharples

UG Philosophy and Politics, Guitar Enthusiast, Smiths Enjoyer

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