Hamilton Leithauser – Brooklyn Steel – November 1, 2017
Out of all of the musicians who had made a splash in the turn-of-the-century New York City rock scene you could argue that Hamilton Leithauser has aged more gracefully than the rest of the pack. Once the fiery-eyed frontman of the beloved indie-rock band the Walkmen, he’s made the transition toward more of a classic crooner as a solo artist. After the band went on hiatus in 2013, he released his elegant debut solo album, Black Hours, which owed as much to balladeers from the early ’60s as it did to the Walkmen’s post-punk and garage-rock roots. Things really began to gel on his most recent release, a collaborative album written with former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij called I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. Every song is a winner and mixes Hamilton’s influences with Rostam’s orchestration and production work effortlessly. Initially, Leithauser’s voice was one of the things that set apart the Walkmen from all of the other indie rock bands of their day. It was a force to reckon with at a packed Brooklyn Steel last night, with fans eager to hear him in all of his ragged power.
There’s a part in the documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? when Monty Python’s Eric Idle compares the late singer’s vocal stylings to the routine of trapeze artists. Nilsson would reach for these death-defying notes and you never knew if he was going to pull them off or fail miserably. When watching Leithauser sing, you can’t help but see him in a similar way. Only with Leithauser, a daredevil jumping a motorcycle over row of burning cars is a more fitting metaphor. When he’s about to belt out some of those death-defying notes, a part of you thinks it might go horribly wrong but he always seems to stick the landing.
Leithauser proved this over and over again on Wednesday. He and his band ran through all of I Had a Dream That You Were Mine and also treated the crowd to a few songs from Black Hours. On the majority of the material, Leithauser would bang out chords on his 12-string acoustic or delicately pick on his nylon-string guitar for the somber ballads. But he really shined when putting them aside in order to play the role of frontman, thanks to his distinct stage presence. Squeezing the microphone like the leader of a hardcore band, head tilted facing the sky, with his other hand either flung back or punching emphatically into the air. Opener Courtney Marie Andrews came out to duet on two songs, I Had a Dream’s beautiful fever dream of a closer, “1959,” and the newly released duet with Angel Olsen, “Heartstruck (Wild Hunger).” Their voices harmonized beautifully, and it was absolutely breathtaking when she took the lead on the latter number.
Leithauser was thankful to be back in Brooklyn and was conversational with the adoring hometown crowd. He treated the room to the piano ballad “Proud Irene,” off of a limited vinyl-only release, Dear God, which Leithauser would personally hand-deliver to people in the neighborhood. As he introduced the song and explained the release, you could tell there were a few people in the front row who had purchased it. For the encore, the band played through his first-ever collaboration with Rostam, “I Retired,” off of Black Hours, which Leithauser claimed was the best recording he’s ever been a part of. The performance ended with I Had a Dream’s “Peaceful Morning” and then a solo cover of Palace Music’s “Trudy Dies.” He then left the cheering crowd with a wave, joyfully exclaiming, “I’m Hamilton Leithauser. I live down the street.” —Pat King | @MrPatKing