Albert Hammond Jr.
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Thursday, November 14, 2013
On Thursday, Albert Hammond Jr. and his band were uniformly dressed in all black. Although his solo album is set apart from his work as the founding guitarist of the Strokes, he isn't out to separate his image as much as just be himself. He was accompanied by his same white Fender Stratocaster with red lightning bolt strap which he's known for playing in the Strokes.
Hammond Jr. is best known as a member of the New York garage rock band, and his solo work is not afraid to admit that, but his music gives off its own unique vibe.
The band warmed up with a couple of songs from Albert's first record Yours to Keep before diving into anything off the new self-initialed EP, AHJ. It's very clear that guitar is such a vital part to his songwriting as his band is made up of three guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. This not only made for many harmonized guitar solos, but also assisted in covering the exact voicings for the cheerful horn medley at the end of "Hard to Live in the City."
While it's almost expected the Strokes' guitarist would waltz up on stage with a rock star attitude, Albert remained very humble. He turned his feet inward and rolled his eyes away from the crowd and up to the ceiling in during the first half of the set. He even forgot a couple of words in "Carnal Cruise," and brought a certain human quality. He just gave the audience a big grin continued on. He later warmed up to the stage and began to move around more, sheathing his guitar on his back as he grabbed the microphone.
The veins in his neck protruded as he sneered the lyrics, "I'm not going to change 'til I want to" from "In Transit." Instead of a big shot smooth frontman, Hammond, Jr. came off as a guy that was genuinely excited to play and be a part of music. As the song ended, he let out a big breath and confessed that he "hadn't had that much fun on that song in a while."
Albert Hammond, Jr. treats his fans in a very personal way. He makes a point to respond and answer fans over Twitter and communicates with his audience in a very friendly manner. He had a lot to say between songs, including commenting on the Varsity's stage structure by musing "This is weird architecture. It's like the Twilight Zone" to which a fan shouts "Try going to the bathroom!" and the rest of the crowd laughs. Albert responds playfully by remarking "You don't think I go to the bathroom? I saw that!"
After announcing that he would be playing one more song, the fans grieved in disproval. Hammond, Jr then aggressively grabbed the mic and wailed "I've got something to say!" as the backing band landed the crucial guitar hits on their cover of the Misfits' "Last Caress." This was a bold move, but was pulled off in a fun manner.
The fans were not having any of his waving goodbye and walking off stage as if he wasn't planning on coming back for an encore. Modern performances are odd like that. Even if the crowd doesn't go totally nuts, the band almost always comes returns. This audience in particular wasn't taking any chances. The overhead music actually came on when Albert Hammond Jr. and his band came back on stage. The show was concluded with Albert intimately playing "Blue Skies" solo on his electric guitar.
Critic's Bias: Albert Hammond Jr. was my guitar idol when I was in school for guitar performance and still is. While many would argue that his guitar playing is repetitive and simple, and that's why I really admire him. Albert lays down the guitar to support the songs rather than take the lead. On a music theory level, he chooses harmonically interesting voicings; blending dissonance to create a sound that gives his music (and the Strokes) more flavor than a good majority of modern music. I could write an essay on the harmonic analysis of his playing on Room on Fire alone and will always be impressed with his creativity. Ask me about it later if you have several hours to kill. I'll make a powerpoint.
The Crowd: Albert drew a decent sized crowd of dedicated fans that were not afraid of talking to him. Throughout the whole show, people were shouting things at him as if they knew him. Conversely, Albert had no problems striking conversation with the crowd as well. Many audience members enjoyed shouting their guesses at what type of mystery beverage Hammond, Jr. was drinking out of his water bottle. Albert later appeared at the merch table to hang with fans in his rad custom adidas track suit.
Overheard in the Crowd: (screeched) "FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER"
Random Notebook Dump: I thought the guy ahead of me was being nice by letting me stand in front of him so I could see. Not the case at all. Turns out he was just trying to escape the "rancid fart pocket" the guy next to him created. Sigh. At least the music is good.
Victory at Monterey
Hard to Live in the City
Everyone Get's a Star
Back to the 101
In my Room
You Won't be Fooled by This
The Boss Americana