An immediate sense of drama floods through the Troxy, as the haunting, sinister riff of 'Standing At The Sky's Edge' echoes through the venue, building into a stunning climax, with Hawley and his band reduced to mere shadows amidst the darkly lit stage. Detailing the human effect of the continued and unashamed 'us v them' mentality of our Government, it's a frankly extraordinary lesson in not just songwriting, but musicianship and performance. He may be the nearly man of almost every single award ceremony in existence, but tonight, the victory is already his.
Elsewhere, the closest he has ever come to a hit in 'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' proves to be a set highlight, with the delight of the inevitable crowd of loved-up couples clear to see. Similarly, recent single 'Seek It' is classic Hawley. Whereas his most recent album ventured into the new realms of psychedelia, here he makes a nod to his past, venturing back into the classic heartbreaker mode, with which he first made his name.
Things then take an unexpected turn halfway through, with the phenomenal 'Soldier On', which begins so quietly that the only sound you can hear is the clink of bottles being thrown away by the bar staff. This of course proves to be the calm before the storm, as a deafening roar erupts from Hawley's guitar. If you knew him as the writer of gentle love songs, you probably best think again.
It must be noted however, that there is a very obvious trough to the evening's varied peaks. Whereas 'Remorse Code', with it's drawn out melody and gently-crooned vocal sounds stunning on record, tonight it feels like it lasts for half the set, leaving many in the audience feeling a bit restless. This is fortunately atoned for pretty quickly with a rare outing for 'There's A Storm A Comin'', unknown to nearly everybody in attendance, with Hawley and his band having only ever played it twice. He meekly introduces it, warning that it could be a bit of a disaster, but he need not have worried. The rapturous response from the crowd is probably the loudest he receives all evening.
With an encore of 'I'm On Nights' and the majestic 'The Ocean', Hawley shows why he has been a critics' darling for so long. His way with words has never been in doubt, but with a new-found energy and life to his shows, it's no surprise that he's finally reaching out to the larger audience he deserves. When it's your time to arrive, all you can do is turn up and show what you're made of. He's certainly arrived now, make no mistake about that.