The fact that one-fifth of the planet’s most iconic rock bands is performing at The Academy’s basement venue in the city’s university quarter is both incredible and inexplicable. The fate of The Strokes may be unknown but Albert Hammond Jr. is surging onwards and upwards regardless; latest record Francis Trouble is a vibrant, unpredictable and inventive addition to an already glowing anthology of material. The album received a bevy of critical accolades upon its release, ultimately appearing on many ‘best of’ lists at the midway point in the year and that’s what makes this evening so baffling! We’re really fortunate to be experiencing the Californian at his raucous best, up close and personal on the Club Academy’s low-ceilinged, low capacity venue, but come on… we should be fighting for space on the front rail of the city’s larger venues, surely. What exacerbates this is how bloody great the show is!
Support duties have been given to London five-piece Yassassin. Although they’re named after the Bowie song, this is deceptive; frantic indie-punk is the order of the day, and tracks including new release ‘Wreckless’ are constructed amidst the twin-pillars of a serrated, double-edged guitar onslaught enhanced by throbbing bass lines driving the melodic, indie approach to saw-toothed levels as vocals swerve evocatively between a rose-tinted Britpop era sound and the guttural punk of The Breeders and Sonic Youth.
Although AHJ performed a few select Francis Trouble tracks in the city during a support slot for Franz Ferdinand in the spring, this evening offers a more comprehensive and amplified presentation of this material. He kicks off with the punky ‘DvsL’, immediately reaching out and embracing fans on the front rail. Straight out of the traps there’s an infectious energy about proceedings and ‘Rude Customer’ sees AHJ go AWOL from the stage as he wanders amongst a beaming crowd in his resplendent gold suit.
It’s certainly an industrious few minutes. Surely this can’t be maintained. The melodic ‘Set to Attack’ is more controlled but AHJ is still a burning ball of fire and ‘Caught By My Shadow’ again releases the animal in him; angular incursions rage amidst the battering percussion which pull the violent strings controlling Albert Hammond Jr’s unpredictable motions. The pace is relentless! ‘Side Boob’ underscores this in spades before ‘St. Justice’ slows things down a degree, providing more euphonic thrills. New song ‘Far Away Truths’ maintains this high-tempo, catchy approach. The man knows a good hook, but then you’d expect that from someone with his pedigree!
The first reminder of ¿Como Te Llama’s? brilliance comes in the form of ‘GfC’ and its wonderfully clean and sprightly stratocaster intro. The track unshackles itself from its moorings several times but AHJ reins it in, taming those rambunctious interludes in style.
Losing the gold jacket, AHJ is an unrestrained whirlwind and we all get a workout just watching. There is a subtle maturity to the new material in particular though. Sophisticated textures exist on the new record and elements are maintained in the form of select backing tracks which accompany certain songs. ‘Rocky’s Late Night’ is a perfect example. Beguiling synths stylishly open proceedings: there’s a chilled vibe in the air which is ruptured by a rolling riff and the song’s ominous vocals. It’s one of the new album’s best and it’s perfectly presented here this evening.
We finally get a reminder of the guitarist’s first solo album with an airing of ‘Holiday’ and ‘In Transit’. Full of the angular gestures which The Strokes became famous for, but demonstrating an individual personality all of their own, it becomes clear that an AHJ has built up an enviable body of material, regardless of past connections. Despite requests, there is certainly no room for any of The Strokes songs.
An encore includes new album highlight ‘Tea for Two’. Vocally immense, it once again demonstrates the expansive development inherent in Francis Trouble. The evening ends with ‘ScreaMER’. It’s a raucous Rolling Stones-esque, bar-room brawl of a song, further exacerbating the original question: why the hell aren’t more people aware of the brilliance of Albert Hammond Jr?!?