Despite his youthful appearance and relatively underground status Hamilton Leithauser has been treading the boards of the alternative music scene for a long time now. Benny Profane caught him in action last night and felt the mad urge to scribble this review and send in a photo he took with a potato.
With his former cohorts The Walkmen he was the driving song-writing force behind a band that put out some of the most superbly sculpted rock singles of the last 15 years and delivered at least one classic album in 2008’s You & Me.
The slow and stuttering winding down of The Walkmen’s time together has meant that Leithauser’s foray into solo work is not being followed with the same scrutiny as similar solo ventures that came after a successful band career.
Thankfully the ever-faithful Dublin gig-going public loyally sold out the admittedly small venue and did their honest best to cheer and encourage the men on stage on what was their last performance of a 6 week-long European tour.
A full crowd at The Workmans is an intimate affair and the prickly jostling for position that precedes these types of stuffy gigs was initially tinged with a noticeable waft of passive-aggression. Magically, however, once the music began the audience managed to collectively settle into a sort of comfortable fugue state that afforded everyone a decent view of the stage and ample room for elbow poking and the lifting of drinks.
The red curtains that frame the Workmans stage always adds a hint of vaudevillian theatricality to performances there and they seemed particularly suited to the booze-soaked troubadorian style that Leithauser has been cultivating of late.
About 2 songs in the cheers of the crowd became infected with a touch of sarcasm as the images projected onto the screen at the back of the stage briefly defaulted to a laptop home page while the unwitting band played on unawares.
With The Walkmen, Leithauser’s singing often had to compete in volume with fast pounding drums and loud jangly guitars; but in this performance his understated lyrics and soaring vocals were given much more room and were the focus around which the rest of the music revolved.
Vaguely romantic lyrics that make reference to unsent postcards, unrequited love and borderline alcoholism dominate Leithauser’s songs; creating the impression of a less grizzled but more sincere Tom Waits.
Like other great American song-writers Leithauser has the potential to evoke vivid images with the most subtle observations and poetically coined phrases.
One such example of this talent came in the form of the song ‘Brides Dad’ that relates the story of a desperate father who gatecrashes his daughter’s wedding and interrupts the reception celebrations by giving a tear-soaked rendition of the famous folk tune ‘Blooming Heather’ (Leithauser informed us that he was witness to this scene at a friend’s wedding).
The brief portrait of the Brides Dad along with the song’s stripped-back composition and sweet melody creates a poignancy of expression that is clinical in its understatement. The details relating to the fathers chipped teeth, yellow-linen vest and grey beard along with the screamed refrain “I swear I caught you smiling, from the corner of my eye” seems to sum up perfectly the dynamic of the situation and the thoughts and emotions of the song’s principal characters.
Apart from his carefully weighted lyrics, the other more distinctive feature of Leithauser’s performance was, as always, his powerful vocals. He is just as comfortable delivering low-register, bitter-sweet songs of regret and longing as he is with belting out full-blooded high-notes that he manages to reach and hold with a control that is professionally honed. In these moments his voice sounds rich and bold and displays it’s enigmatic mix of volume, pitch and control that is unmatched by any other male singer in his genre. At times it seemed to soar over the rest of the band and occupy the entire room.
The show finished with a brilliant and well-received encore and afterwards Leithauser cemented his reputation as a thoroughly class act by pleasantly shaking hands, signing autographs, taking photos and generally humouring anyone interested in talking to him; proving beyond all doubt that he is at least twice as cool as his ridiculously cool name would suggest.