Live Review: Albert Hammond Jr. Shreds Brisbane (17/2/16)

These summer night gigs are getting just a bit much as far as sweltering humidity goes, it’s positively draining when you’re sweating before the gig even kicks off. No amount of heat or humidity or anything short of an apocalypse was going to keep me away from The Woolly Mammoth on Fortitude Valley’s iconic Ann Street.

Not when the recently passed lockout laws are looming and every night of unimpeded live music until they’re here should be savoured. And especially not when a virtuoso musician like Albert Hammond Jr., known most commonly for his role as part of the seminal New York City garage rock revival group The Strokes, is in town tonight, albeit in a solo capacity on his Momentary Masters tour in support of his latest record.

The psychedelic Gunns from Perth are in support tonight, playing to a decent early crowd who are well into it. They’re incredibly pleasant to listen to, radiating warm and breezy vibes of a much surfier pre-Currents Tame Impala. Songs like The Fool and She’s A Rainbow are totally mesmerising outer space rockers and the Woolly Mammoth sound system is more than up to the task of unpacking these and the rest of their songs from record to stage. It’s a wonderful way to catch a breath and enjoy the welcome indoors cool after sweating all the way here.

Having just launched their She’s A Rainbow EP with shows at the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney and Shebeen in Melbourne, expect some big things from Gunns in the very near future as their career hits liftoff.

It’s a little wait until the man of the hour hits the stage, which is more than enough time for the crowd to swell. Having been hanging out for a tour or a festival appearance in Australia by The Strokes since their last here at the Splendour In The Grass of 2010, a solo tour by Albert Hammond Jr. is more than welcome.

To say that the crowd here tonight are only in attendance because of Albert’s Strokes proximity though would be to do the man and his indelibly impressive catalogue of solo work a great disservice though. 2016 marks the 10th year since Albert Hammond Jr. stepped out on his own and forged a path as a solo artist, and everything he has released since Yours To Keep a decade ago has more than stood up on its own.

A great deal of this is owed to the music coursing through his veins. The son of the senior Albert Hammond, an enduring musical icon from as far back as the 70s, as well as his own musical training at New York’s Tisch School of Arts that provided one of the backdrops for the formation of The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr. is a true professional, a musical lifer.

Clad in all white that throws all the way back to the stunning You Only Live Once music video, Hammond Jr. bounds onstage and wastes no time ripping in. It’s an enthralling set, initially Hammond eschews the guitar in favour of straight frontman duties, but as soon as he picks it up and rips into the solo from Rude Customer my jaw is on the floor at just how good he is. It’s an increasingly rare thing for a modern guitar player to have such an unmistakeable sound but Hammond’s is just timeless and brings back an absolute torrent of nostalgia.

The setlist encompasses his three albums and intervening AHJ EP with a fairly even spread. 101 from debut Yours To Keep gets an early run, as does GfC from 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama?

It’s Momentary Masters that quite rightly gets worked over the most tonight though, the majority of the record getting its live treatment. A soaring Losing Touch, a frenetic Caught By My Shadow, Hammond Jr.’s absolutely stellar guitar work continuing to shine through, particularly on songs like Touché and one of the set standouts in Drunched In Crumbs. His band are no slouches either, all more than capable of keeping up with Hammond Jr., and the chemistry between them all absolutely tangible.

Aside from maybe two or three tracks the LP is scattered over the set almost in its entirety and is welcomed warmly by the crowd. Albert Hammond Jr. sings and performs just as adeptly and entertainingly as a frontman as he does a lead guitarist, the band having a lot of fun mid-set with a well-timed cover of The MisfitsLast Caress that saw the teenager in me almost burst through my chest, Alien-style.

Side Boob chugs along like a midnight train, In Transit has the crowd bopping along, as does the positively contagious Born Slippy, the opening track on Momentary Masters. It’s the kind of song that leeches itself to your auditory cortex and refuses to let go for days.

The entire set feels lightning quick but runs for well over an exhilarating hour. As he’s wrapping up his encore, Hammond Jr. and the band play what I swear sounds like the opening riff of The Strokes classic Razorblade. It all happens so fast that it barely registers and I’m not even sure now that they did play it, but the way my heart leapt into my throat at the time seemed like a giveaway. They cut it off abruptly though and exit the stage after thanking us all.

Were we just trolled by Albert Hammond Jr.???

It was a fantastic show nonetheless. When I interviewed Albert Hammond Jr. last year, he promised that there would be a lot of surprised people at his shows who didn’t realise they would have such a good time. I think all of us in attendance that night can attest to that, we all knew we were in for a good show, but we probably didn’t realise it would be that good. Many artists who branch out solo from successful bands aren’t able to stand on their own next to the lofty standards of the original band, Hammond Jr. and his solo band aren’t just standing tall on their own, they’re smashing it out of the park.

In that same interview he also said he wanted his solo band to be as huge as they can possibly be. With his comeback to solo music at full steam right now it’s definitely possible, Momentary Masters up there with his best work to date and his quirky individual twists on The Strokes original New York garage sound provides a unique and refreshing presence in a world where Strokes shows and material are coming much fewer and further between.

But whether it is with The Strokes (they’ve got a few American and European festival dates ahead so fingers crossed) or on his own again, there’s a few hundred lucky people in Brisbane tonight hoping Albert Hammond Jr. won’t be a stranger for long.