The lights dimmed to an eerie darkness and Albert Hammond Jr.’s voice boomed across the room, reciting the spoken word intro to The Doors’ ‘The Soft Parade’, in which Jim Morrison bullishly asserts that, “You cannot petition the lord with prayer!” Beyond Morrison’s Nietzchean, anti-theistic worldview, this brazen monologue is often perceived as an outpour of Morrison’s frustrations with what audiences expected of him, and his desire to just be himself. As a guitarist of The Strokes - one of the biggest indie bands in history - now touring as a solo artist, this was an intriguing, suggestive choice of introduction. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hammond Jr.’s setlists never feature a single Strokes song, despite the rapture he knows they’d be received with.
With the stage bathed in green and red light - the two prominent colours on the sleeve of his new album Francis Trouble, here the radiancy of the new was very much favoured over the sweet melancholy of nostalgia. Named after his stillborn twin brother who died in the womb, this is a deeply personal record that sees Hammond Jr. ruminate on his twin’s absence, whilst he explores the streams and valleys of his own identity.
Beginning with the joyous ‘Dvsl’ he cavorted with euphoric abandon in his silver suit, swirling his mic and clambering over the bars and amps like a frenzied ape. The glee he performed with throughout was infectious - he comes across as an assured performer who knows he’s on top form. ‘Harder, Harder, Harder’ punched with glorious potency, with its absolute belter of a rhythm that gets right down your spine, whilst ‘Far Away Truths’’ melodic hook drenched the room in bittersweet bliss.
‘In Transit’ elicited the crowd’s biggest roar, and remains his finest and most perfect song, one that’s so pure and true that you simply submit to the melody, every word laced with gorgeous emotion. Yet despite this exceptional moment, a continuous thread throughout was the new songs outshining the old, with the absence of ‘Stop and Go’ and ‘Strangers’ pointedly felt, despite this setlist already featuring the majority of Francis Trouble.
If Hammond Jr.’s intent was to more firmly set himself apart from the band that shot him to fame, whilst venturing into new terrain that is both thematically compelling and sonically exciting, he has gloriously succeeded. Although he’s still unlikely to gather swathes of new fans outside of The Strokes’ audience, he has more than earned his respect as a distinguished solo artist. On this form, don’t petition him to be ‘the guitarist from The Strokes’ every waking second. Rather, let him follow whatever trails of creativity present themselves, as this will bear the sweetest fruits of his labour.