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There is a certain bond shared amongst fans of The Strokes. Critics may deride their efforts, languishing in the popular opinion that they haven’t done anything quite as good as their career-defining Is This It, and the band themselves may sometimes come off as ambiguous and cryptic, but their fans are nothing but loyal. Coming out in 2001 as a fully-formed breath of fresh air amongst the ranks of turgid nu-metal bands and limp MOR rock, The Strokes sent the precedent for many indie and rock bands for the better part of the ensuing decade. Met with the increasing demands of being one of the most-talked about bands around, they somewhat faltered in the eyes of the public. Despite releasing two albums (the fantastic Room on Fire and the very underrated First Impressions of Earth), the band could still not live down the earth-shattering expectations set by their debut and, after a whirlwind tour behind First Impressions…, they decided to lay low.
Unfound rumors abound of their break up, not doubt brought on by the quickly released Yours to Keep by guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. The last Stroke join, he brought a sense of classic style to the band and, with fellow guitarist Nick Valensi, defined their twin-guitar attack. Singer Julian Casablancas may have written the tunes and rhythm section Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti may have held them down to a solid foundation, but the famous sound of The Strokes were found in Albert and Valensi. Whether it be in tension building break in “Reptilia” or the metronomic pulse of “Hard to Explain,,the duo brought their own gritty take to the classic bob and weave style found among many of the other great guitar duos of the past.
Despite that, it was still surprising that Yours to Keep sounded so much like The Strokes. Hammond scored one co-writing credit for Room on Fire’s “Automatic Stop,” but the majority of the material was written by Casablancas. In reality, its more of a testament to the band’s combined vision, as Hammond took some of the main building blocks of The Strokes (mainly the dirty rock of the Velvet Underground and the power pop of Guided By Voices) and threw out his own, excellent interpretation. Proving to be the most prolific of all of his bandmates during their down time, he released one more album (2008’s ¿Como Te Llama?) before The Strokes eventually got back together in 2010. Now, with more free time on his hands due to the press-black out The Strokes have fallen into after the release of this year’s Comedown Machine, Albert has decided to briefly go out on his own once again, embarking on a short tour behind his latest EP, AHJ.
Touching down at Brighton Music Hall, it was surprising to learn that the show wasn’t sold out, despite the floor being packed by the time Hammond and his four-piece band took the stage. Opening the show was the Toronto via-Ireland Nightbox. Despite having a strong pedigree behind their 2011 debut EP (produced by members of MSTRKRFT and Death From Above 1979), their act proved to be fun if a bit derivative. A daring cover of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” impressed, but at times they felt and sounded like a good number of other modern act around.
A significant amount of people pushed their way to the front before Albert took the stage. Flanked by the standard two guitarists (three counting Hammond himself), bassist and drummer, Hammond made his way through a nearly twenty song setlist that encompassed all three points of his solo career. Kicking off his set with Yours to Keep’s “Everyone Get a Star,” the majority of Brighton was hanging on to Hammond’s every word and movement. Newer songs such as the pounding “Rude Customer” and the laidback “St. Justice” were given a warm welcome, but his older songs proved to be the night’s high marks. “Holiday” and “GfC” boogied along like so many great Strokes songs do while “In Transit” and “Hard To Live In The City” were big singalongs.
As ever, Hammond was with his signature white Fender Telecaster, worn high up his chest, echoing one of his bigger influences: Buddy Holly. Previously stating that he would wear his guitar high up to give him more freedom to dance (one only need to watch early Strokes performances to see the truth behind this), Hammond danced less and focused more on singing this time around. Sounding spot on, Hammond would stretch and contort his face to match the emotion he was throwing behind many of his melodies.
After treating the crowd to two covers (“Postal Blowfish” by Guided By Voices and “Last Caress” by The Misfits”), Hammond and his crew walked off the stage, the house music started playing, but the lights didn’t go down. They seemingly ran out of rehearsed songs, but the band stumbled back on stage and went through a quick take of ¿Como Te Llama?’s “The Boss Americana” before leaving Albert alone on stage. As a treat for his dedicated fans, he pulled out “Blue Skies,” a tune he hasn’t played for a while. Sloppy but full of character, Hammond forgot the words to the third verse, but no one really minded. Much has been made about The Strokes’ nonchalant and detached attitudes, but Hammond proved to be an absolute joy, full of life and happy to take the stage. The fact that he patiently waited after the show to meet up with anyone that wanted a picture or an autograph showed that his fan’s rabid levels of devotion was more than just a one-way street.
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