Hurts, Somerset House, London

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The Independent Culture

As night darkens, this elegant quadrangle looks even more like the set for Ultravox's "Vienna" video, an effect not entirely spoiled on stage by a pair of flag-wavers dressed as sepulchral figures from Joy Division's film for "Atmosphere".

Then the pair themselves emerge dressed like Heaven 17 in their yuppie-inspired days ready to unleash the icy washes of "Silver Lining". The Mancunian duo certainly seem at home, especially vocalist Theo Hutchcraft. While Adam Anderson plays elegant piano figures, he throws himself across the stage as if Hurts had filled an arena.

That is something they are already preparing for in central Europe, where their old romantic, classical touches have earned them a wider following than at home. Originally dismissed as mere Eighties throwbacks in the manner of La Roux, Hurts' album, Happiness, has steadily reached gold in the UK, while gaining platinum status in Germany.

So now they come with a full band that boasts strings and a sax player, plus a pair of dancers and an opera singer. The overall effect takes them a step away from new-romantic clichés, emphasising instead their nods to "Barcelona"-style pop/opera crossovers and – when the massed choir samples come in – Soviet patriotic song. What is missing, though, is the high camp of Europop mainstays Army of Lovers or the wit of the Pet Shop Boys.

Achingly earnest, Hurts come across as Lexicon of Love-era ABC – but without the humour. "We're just two boys from Manchester who wrote these songs on the dole," Hutchcraft tells us. At least that explains all the references to rain. Yet the duo's writing creaks under the strain of maintaining such a dramatic pitch, as on "Devotion", where the singer battles against a disembodied choir and a wheezing drum loop.

They are far more compelling when they rely on up-to-date, techno production, rather than orchestral flourishes. Propelled by a clanking, Sheffield-forge rhythm, the euphoric "Better Than Love" makes a fine end to the set, while another highlight is "Stay", with its quiet verse and immense chorus that would have Take That breaking more records. Hurts lack their fellow northerners' charisma, but aware of such limitations, bring a show with unintentionally amusing moments to hide their deficiencies. A look to the future, though, would also help.