A precursory glance at Albert Hammond Jr.’s Twitter page should tell you one quick fact about his live show: don’t expect to hear Strokes songs. The guitarist for the popular New York City rock band has absolutely no interest in shelling out that material. After all, you’re going to an Albert Hammond Jr. show – not a Strokes show.
Any mention of The Strokes or his band mates (particularly a certain Julian Casablancas) was met with a bit of a cold glance and certainly seemed to test Hammond’s patience. It’s not that he doesn’t have a sense of humour or can understand fan interest in his other project: it’s just that there’s a limit to the consistent heckling one man can take.
In Toronto’s defence, it has been a while since The Strokes last toured here. Frontman Julian Casablancas was here in 2010 (and, for the record, played two of the band’s songs on his solo appearance), but The Strokes haven’t been in the city since 2006. Even still, the question: “Can I have Julian’s phone number?” was ridiculous, as were the requests for the band’s material. Hammond laughed both off, explaining to the crowd that his band mate doesn’t have a cell phone and that if they were expecting Strokes material, they were at the wrong show. He was less kind to the idiot with the drumstick who kept waving it in the air in a vapid attempt to get him to sign it (or something.) To his credit, his response elicited cheers from the front row when he shot back: “Honestly? You can shove it up your ass.”
On stage and bathed in red light (Hammond asked for only red lights – remarking at one point: “It got so sexy when it went dark. You guys like it sexy, right?” – and his limited stage design consisted of eight red light bulbs), he and his four-piece backing band were at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in support of 2013 EP, AHJ. The three guitarists on stage made for plenty of rock moments and the band also does dark, bass-driven dance well. “Victory at Monterey”, from Hammond’s 2008 sophomore record, floated into Suuns-meets-Interpol territory and had bodies swaying to its pulsations.
Another highlight of the night was “Everyone Gets a Star” from Hammond’s 2006 solo debut Yours to Keep. Even he remarked after the song that it appeared to have great entertainment value. “Holiday” – another off of his debut – also played well thanks to its instrumental kick in.
It wasn’t entirely great, however. The band came apart later in the set and sounded disjointed. Singing also doesn’t seem to come quite as naturally to Hammond as it does to other rock vocalists, and he certainly didn’t hit all of his notes. As a singer, he’s awkward. As a guitarist, he’s amazing – and the difference between him just at a microphone versus him with a microphone plus guitar is night and day. That said, it was a bit of a surprise that his guitar-toting band mates carried much of the heavy lifting.
The crowd itself was fairly sparse, no doubt owing to the fact that 2013 Mercury Prize winner James Blake was also playing a sold out show at the Kool Haus. It didn’t seem to bother Hammond at all though and he ended the main portion of his set on an energetic note. The last few songs – including a Guided by Voices and Misfits cover – cantered closer to mosh pit material than anything preceding it.
Big cheers for an encore had the band return to the stage, Hammond remarking: “The trick to the encore is to have no songs to play for the encore and then just make something up.” While first song “The Boss Americana” was flat in its chorus, it was thankfully saved by its loud, Ramones-like appeal. Surprisingly, Hammond followed it up with a subdued, solo performance of “Blue Skies”. Despite botching the song’s middle section (he forgot the last verse and just tacked a chorus on instead), it was an intimate and memorable moment – perhaps the best of the night.
Apart from the one solo number and as a whole, Hammond’s strength is loud rock and roll. It’s not perfect, but he is engaging. As it stands, Albert Hammond Jr. certainly has his diehard fans – I’m just not sure his solo project has the heft to inspire new ones.