“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes…” - Arctic Monkeys, ‘Star Treatment’, 2018
I make no secret of the fact that I have been a pretty huge fan of The Strokes for most of my life. I used to bring in my copy of Room On Fire to kindergarten as show-and-tell all the time. So when the chance arose for me to see Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. live at such an intimate venue as Marrickville’s Factory Theatre, you can be damn sure that I was going to take it.
After finally managing to make it past the lady at the box office who had taken an instant dislike to me, I was sitting in the lounge area outside the venue, waiting for the doors to open. All of a sudden, the man himself walks past. Just walks right up past the bar and heads upstairs to get ready. This is a man whose band had changed the face of modern music and inspired an entire generation of musicians. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a bit more of a fuss. A few more security guards, a bigger entourage, maybe even some barriers.
It was only when the show began that I realised I was looking at it the wrong way. I had gone in expecting The Strokes, knowing I would be a bit disappointed. What I found instead was an artist who had outgrown his reputation.
He was dressed up in a gold suit, swinging around a microphone and jumping on amps. Behind him were two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, all managing to both dazzle the crowd with their prowess and make it look easy. Almost immediately, it became clear why Hammond had chosen to play at such a small venue as the Factory. Despite having travelled halfway across the world to do so, he still performed as if he were in a room with his closest friends.
As he jumped into the crowd and began dancing with us, he looked like he was having the time of his life. And it was infectious; we were having fun because he was having fun. All the while, his backing band were rock solid. They were so tight as a unit, I assumed they had been friends for years. Yet somehow, in amongst all of that, something felt off. As much fun as Hammond looked to be having, belting out the lyrics to four albums’ worth of his light indie rock, there was something missing.
Throughout the whole show, Hammond picked up his guitar four times. And when he did, it was incredible. I’d never seen anyone play that well, and that effortlessly. But for a man who’s considered one of the most important guitarists this century, four solos in an entire concert is not enough.
Albert Hammond Jr. has made it abundantly clear that he wants to distance himself from The Strokes for the time being, and that’s understandable. For his latest album, Francis Trouble, he’s even gone so far as to create an alter ego for himself. From what I witnessed, it’s been a positive for him, allowing him to recapture what it is that drew him to music in the first place. But he can’t forget what drew people to his music, either. He’s far too good a guitarist to let us forget it.