Photographs by Katrina Lat
I owe a lot to my friend Michael Natale, we went to high school together and he helped get me into writing about music. This past year he turned me onto the Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam album. I’m well aware of Rostam Batmanglij and his work with Vampire Weekend but I’ve never actually listened to The Walkmen Leithauser’s band he spent a decade with and recorded seven albums.
Leithauser’s tour is basically the I Had A Dream That You Were Mine tour; unfortunately it was sans Rostam who work only consisted of studio production. The Opera House show started out with When The Truth Is… that sounds eerily like a Beatles song. Leithauser seems like he was actually born in the wrong time period. His singing is like a cross between Bob Dylan’s off key crooning and John Lennon’s perfect ear for melodies. If he was working back in 1988 he would have been a shoe in to join The Travelling Wilburys the super group that consisted of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. Leithauser’s simple and elegant playing is truly something to behold.
Leithauser’s live show was all over the place. He spent the night switching between three guitars, a regular electric one that he played with a slide, a twelve-string acoustic and a smaller Spanish acoustic guitar as well. The later of which showed his ability to play that style is much harder to become proficient at as played on In A Black Out. After a few songs his drummer ran off stage, which Leithauser joking asked the crowd if he had bailed on him? It turned out his drummer broke his kick pedal and needed to ask opener Lucy Dacus if they can borrow their gear for the rest of the show. To pass the time Leithauser joked around asking the crowd “What do you think of this harmonica? Just keep calm and everyone stay quiet.”
On You Ain’t That Young Kid, Leithauser stood tall in front of the crowd with a hand in his pocked as he sung into a reverb soaked microphone and a sticky sweet organ gospel style melody was played on the keyboard to accompany him. The music alternated back and forth from the soulful music to something that sounded remarkably like Vampire Weekend slower tunes as Rostam’s touches were all over the night.
While the set was almost the entirety of the collaborative album from late last year, a few earlier songs from Leithauser’s career sneaked its way into the set. Alexandra from his 2015 album Black Hours almost got the stoic crowd dancing. Later in the night he played I Retired, a song that was one of the first he wrote with Rostam after they both had split up from their respective bands and explained the meaning of the song as motivation to keep on chugging. Every time Leithauser hit a long sustained note where his voice warbles on the edge of almost being off key the crowd cheered him on. While on first listen his singing style seems quite peculiar it is actually very beautiful and delicate.
The set ended with the first single from the album A 1000 Times, which prompted a slight sing along during the chorus as people swayed side to side gracefully enjoying the music. At the end of the encore Leithauser brought out opener Lucy Dacus to sing on the song 1959, which was originally was sung by Angel Deradoorian but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference as Dacus sounded exactly like her. The show was originally booked to be at The Horseshoe Tavern, but tickets sold out so quickly it was moved to the bigger Opera House, but even then the show was so packed it seemed like they oversold. The show should have been moved to an even bigger venue like Danforth Music Hall or even Rebel, that’s how big of a fan base Hamilton Leithauser has. Next time that mistake won’t be made.