The Belly Up Tavern bore witness to the platonic ideal of a sweaty, high-energy rock show last Sunday night, with indie rock’s resident dark horse, Albert Hammond, Jr., coming to town to promote his new record Francis Trouble and prove to us all once again why he is one of the most consistent and criminally underrated live performers of the new millennium.
Intimate, exciting, and melodically satisfying, Hammond’s tour opener turned out not just to be a regular show, but a triumph of the human spirit.
Over the last eighteen years or so since he scored the Strokes’ scrappy early tour documentary “In Transit,” Albert Hammond, Jr. has been building a catalog of accessible, dynamic solo album that contain many of his strengths, flaws, and sensibilities as a human being. Albert’s solo work has always been able to evoke joy in its purest form. From understated, quietly brilliant indie gems like Yours to Keep and ¿Cómo te Llama? and the modern rock juggernauts he’s put out in recent years, Albert’s songbook has continually evolved wonderfully with each release.
Opening with a slew of songs from his most recent album, the night began to rush by as a flurry of intense and emotional indie rock anthems blared from the speakers, carrying with them stories of desperation, heartbreak, and transcendence. AHJ’s status as a killer frontman as well as a great lyricist and dynamite singer cannot be undersold; he easily has the most engaging stage presence of any singer I’ve seen live other than Brandon Flowers.
An eclectic and proficient new crew of four backing musicians gave off a vibe of intensity and dedication that added even more energy and swagger to his show since I had last seen him tear Beach Goth to shreds in 2016. The band was effortlessly in sync, the music emphatically bursting out of each one of them like it was their last night on Earth. With every element falling into place, from the blistering setlist to the flawless mix and a stimulating light show, all that was left was for us to enjoy the show, with a communal air of total immersion and fun permeating this classy Solana Beach venue.
Bright and melodic new single “Fast Times” kept the energy up in the middle of the set, feeling like a soon-to-be fan favorite even among the formidable competition of his recent material from Francis. Sticking new songs like “Far Away Truths” and “Set to Attack” felt special not only because of their airtight instrumentation, but because of the sense of deep emotionality that they carried, each moment of struggle and frustration made even more relatable by seeing the man himself deliver the songs with such passion.
Albert eventually donned his guitar and played along with his bandmates a few times during the set, filling space in the music in the creation of an impromptu rock symphony, but for the most part, he played the part of frontman and master of ceremonies perfectly, leaping between bar tables and jumping in with the crowd to ecstatically dance and mosh.
Leaving his guitar behind in favor of a more personal experience; Albert took on a whole new identity as the ultimate showman, proving a hero to his dedicated fans. His implied mission to give back to his audience feels properly serviced by every decision he makes in his stage setup. Riding the energy of recent cuts but also making space for familiar favorites like “GfC,” “Holiday,” and “In Transit.” he offered something for everyone, and even gave away one of his sleek new signature guitars to a lucky fan in the first few rows.
Overall, his guitarists were more than capable of adapting the stylings of one of indie rock’s most iconic guitar players; even adding their own embellishments when necessary. Bummer, though, that the band didn’t play “Spooky Couch,” replete with its lush string arrangements and three-guitar instrumentation for full effect. At the end of the night, the Belly Up basked in soft light as a disco ball began to spin overhead, I found myself lost in the wonderful ambiance of this show, at one with everyone else in reverence of the simple, indisputable fact that, in the words of Jack Black: “One great rock show can change the world.”