Julian C and the gang were around to support their axe-man on his New York solo debut and see him set the room on fire
It’s a freezing November night in Manhattan, and outside the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge, a couple of hundred people are trying to get inside the already-at-capacity venue for one of CMJ’s most hotly-tipped shows. We’re here to see Albert Hammond Jr, the beagle-eyed, big-haired guitarist from The Strokes. It’s his first solo gig in New York, and only his fifth ever.
Inside, it’s a Strokes’ family affair as manager Ryan Gentles buzzes about and Julian Casablancas’ wife Juliet takes care of the merch stand. Fab’s outside smoking in a flat cap while Jules hangs around, looking handsome. Nikolai shows up in his fortnight-old mohawk. Only new father Nick is absent. It would be easy to be cynical about such instant cred, but the fact that Albert’s been driving his band to all their shows and loading gear in and out of each one, is irresistibly endearing.
Wearing a sheepish smile which belies his festival-headlining, million-selling pedigree, Albert dons his signature high-positioned guitar and launches into the impossibly Strokes-y ‘In Transit’. With Jules and co watching its catchy delivery live, you have to wonder if they’re having second thoughts about rejecting it as a Strokes song.
The set’s sound is boosted as Matt Romano and Josh Lattanzi are joined by keyboardist Marc Eskenazi ex of The Sexy Magazines and Longwave guitarist Steve Schiltz who manage to bring the fullness of ‘Yours To Keep’ seamlessly to a live setting. “Side A is now over,” Albert jokes following ‘Everyone Gets A Star’, but the truth is, almost every song played tonight is a hit, seeing the audience sing along to every word, despite the fact that the album’s not even widely available yet in the US. The blatant Beatles influences bounce sweetly along, high on ukulele on ‘Bright Young Thing’, while ‘Scared’ mixes-up even more Lennon-ist vocals with Carly Simon-esque melodies.
As the nine-song set closes, the indie rock guitar riffs of a cover of Guided By Voices’ ‘Postal Blowfish’ would be a perfect end to a virtually-flawless show, but ‘Hard To Live In The City’ follows as the final song, feeling a little like a tacked-on afterthought.
Side-projects should traditionally be cringe-worthy, self-deluding results of a background band member’s desire for attention overcoming the sad reality that they don’t have the voice or the charisma to pull it off. Albert Hammond Jr, however, has both in spades. He might not be the brooding rock god that is Julian Casablancas, but he’s got a different kind of charm, and what’s more he’s got the songs, too.