Albert Hammond Jr.'s parents are out of town. He steps to the stage a little before 11pm with the panache of a guy getting away with something: overly bold with an undercurrent of "I hope no one finds out about this." He has four people with him. If you're scoring at home, that's three guitars, one bass, and a drummer who looks like he could give solid minutes at small forward on a recreational basketball team. Hammond is unimpressive. I hope no one tells Mom and Dad.
Hammond is promoting a new album, his second since his parent group, The Strokes, last put together a studio effort. The songs sound exactly like Strokes songs (I suppose this is not surprising) but it seems little questionable why he is making music independent of the band. Most solo records are overly ambitious efforts from lead-singers who believe they outclass and out-pace their band mates. This is arrogant. The other kind of solo album or side-project comes when someone in the band wants to make music in a different genre. This is liberating. Hammond is simply writing Strokes songs on his own. Frankly, it's hard to believe he's not just trying on Julian Casablancas' blazer while Dad is out of town. This is dishonest.
From the upper balcony VIP section (thanks SPIN Magazine!) it's easy to get a look at the crowd. They seem excited to see Hammond and most of them waited 90-minutes for him to take the stage. Once he begins to play and The Strokes comparisons are more obvious, everything seems a little more dirty. Hammond isn't particularly compelling as a frontman. With a strong sense that he's ripping off his parent band, it's hard to get behind anything he's doing. Beyond the first two rows of the crowd, people are barely paying attention.
Part of the problem is psychological. Most people didn't really come to see Albert Hammond - they came to see one-fifth of The Strokes. But what they were seeing was even less than that. They were seeing a rhythm-guitarist cheat on his band for the second-time in two years. It doesn't matter that the records aren't half-bad. It's easy to see why none of The Strokes are here and why none of them came to his Mercury Lounge show last week. I wouldn't want to see my sound ripped-off and dragged around either.
So we return to the RCA records table (which, it bears noting, no one is sitting at) and work on our third bottle of vodka. Someone noted earlier that this is the brand of vodka Keith Richards was drinking when he fell out of the palm tree two years ago. But that was a real guitarist and a real rockstar. This evening is fueled by something different. As Hammond finishes his set, you half-expect Casablancas and Fabrizio to walk out, grab the mics and say, "thanks for warming our crowd up. We'll take it from here." Or more dramatically, for Casablancas to slap Hammond across the face and set everything back right. You can only get away with so much and when Dad gets home, there's hell to pay for what you've done.
Listen :: Albert Hammond Jr. - In Transit
photos courtesy of ndavis2008