Concert Review: Hamilton Leithauser

By Allyson Bills

For those who are curious what Hamilton Leithauser sounds like solo, you can look no further to his show on a Monday night at Crescent Ballroom for the answers.  With the The Walkmen on an indefinite hiatus, Leithauser decided to put out a solo album last year, Black Hours, as well touring twice in promotion of his solo debut  As a fan of the The Walkmen, I was curious myself, and also needed a much-reprieve from the brutal summer heat of Phoenix, so I took a chance to find out for myself.

At 9:30 p.m., Leithauser arrived onstage with his signature suit to a packed venue of people who were also wondering how his solo material sounded live. His backing band, which includes longtime The Walkmen guitarist Paul Maroon, wasted no time in busting into a new song with Leithauser’s trademark screen that he made famous in The Walkmen. What a bold move for Leithauser to pull this off at the beginning of his set, and still keeping the audience engaged.  Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of the opening new song because its title wasn’t announced to the audience.  From what I heard, I liked this new song.

After that, Leithauser delved into familiar territory playing songs from Black Hours. The convincing, “I Don’t Need Anyone” showed the audience that Leithauser is doing quite fine solo. “11 O’Clock Friday Night” gave Leithauser the opportunity to bust out his guitar for the first time ever-in my memory at least- which gave the song more texture. It’s clear from “11 O’Clock Friday Night” that embarking on a solo career has helped Leithauser get out of his comfort zone by playing guitar on some of his songs. “Alexandra” is one of my favorite songs from Black Hours, and Leithauser proved this point again with his trademark raspy scream in the chorus.

Despite catchiness of “Alexandra,” both the crowd and Leithauser didn’t really get warmed until “I Retired,” another song off Black Hours. Combined with the strong drums from his brother-in-law (which we later learned who was playing drums) and Leithauser singing the chorus “All the fire in your heart won’t help”, it got the crowd dancing.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to retire after hanging out in the scorching summer heat all day after hearing this song?

Besides playing songs off of Black Hours, Leithauser proved how prolific he has been since The Walkmen went on hiatus by treating the audience a pair of new songs. Leithauser and the rest of his band busted into a dark and brooding new song, which was so new that Leithauser described a “hot off the press/still on the press.”  Apparently, it’s still being named because there was no name.  After the no-name song, the rhythm section took a short break, leaving just Leithauser and Maroon to sing another new song, “Dad’s Drunk” from the upcoming album Dear God, which Leithauser said it will be out maybe by the end of Summer. Additionally, Leithauser and Maroon covered both Tom Paxton’sAnnie’s Going to Sing Her Song” and Frank Sinatra’sAll Or Nothing At All.”  Performing both covers shows the wide appeal that Leithauser has to different groups of people after seeing everyone around me get into his version of the covers.

It was clear that Leithauser missed the rest of his band after the last cover song was played, joking as everyone came back onstage, “What would I do without these guys?  Endless possibilities.” “The Smallest Splinter”, best reflected Leithauser’s solo work from Black Hours, came after the short break from the rhythm section a very dark-sounding song, and also demonstrating Leithauser’s guitar chops well. He described the last two songs, “Room For Forgiveness” and “I’ll Never Love Again” from the deluxe version of Black Hours, as a “new batch of drinking songs.” Leithauser’s statement got the crowed riled up and wanting more.  The final song off the set, “I’ll Never Love Again,” featured backing vocals for the first time from his friend Skylar, which was fitting with how this set went to begin with the new and end with a song that may not be as familiar to the audience.

Leithauser proved to the audience he wasn’t done after playing “I’ll Never Love Again” by coming out for a single-song encore with Maroon, stating that there is “one more we’ve been dying to play for you all.” This song was “5 AM” from Black Hours, and a very appropriate song to send off the audience on their merry way into the night with the opening lines, “Listen, Summer’s coming.” He also kept the show personal by dedicating “5 AM” to audience member, Andrea. With 110+ temperatures outside, the audience didn’t need a reminder that Summer is here and in full-force. However, perhaps Leithauser needed this reminder. He got the memo in Phoenix.

Leithauser put on a hot, classy show last night in that he kept it simple (just under an hour) with no bells and whistles.  Just his signature crooning was all that was needed. I left pleased and wanting more. I’m looking forward to hearing the next album. Dear God, when it comes out, and what the future holds for Leithauser’s solo career because it looks very bright.

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