Hamilton Leithauser @ The Sinclair

by Craig Short

Hamilton Leithauser @ The Sinclair

Hamilton Leithauser
February 8th at The Sinclair

By: Craig Short

I was given the opportunity to review Hamilton Leithauser’s show with Lucy Dacus by surprise. I hadn’t planned to attend of my own volition, but looking back that was a silly decision. It was a great night.
Lucy Dacus stepped out onto the stage with her band, and my first thought was that she barely looked older than I was–fresh out of college if not still in. She stepped almost timidly up to the microphone, softly greeting the crowd with her shoulders slumped and a faint smile on her lips. The illusion of shyness, though, was shattered as soon as the music began and the floor toms hit like a punch to the chest. What followed was a set of rich, emotionally literate guitar rock with enough of a punk edge to make it all seem… badass. Dacus’ low, soulful voice was the crowning jewel of the set. “I don’t want the joke to be on me,” she sang languidly on the set opener “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” and if she’s proved one thing since releasing her debut, it’s that she’s no joking matter.

Then, of course, we got our main man, the underappreciated indie god with a voice of tarnished gold: Hamilton Leithauser. His last album, “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine,” co-written and recorded with Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend notoriety, was a charming, ambling walk through carefully produced retro sounds. Given that Rostam, known for his charmingly fussy style of songwriting, is not accompanying Leithauser on his North American tour. I was hoping that the concert might show a more unvarnished take on the new songs, and I was not disappointed. The band emerged looking limber, smiley, perhaps a little drunk, but above all ready for action. They took a few songs to warm up, but once they were in full swing they became a stomping, shuffling machine, loose and fun but on the ball at all times. I have to give the keyboard player particular credit for deftly navigating the million-and-one keyboard patches found throughout “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine.” There were a few backing track flourishes, but the weight of the show was carried by the live players. The backing “doo-wops” in “I Won’t Let Up,” eerily mechanical and processed on the album, were warm and joyous when performed live. More than anything, the set was fun, vibrant, and alive, beautifully mixed and wrapped in soft pastel lighting.

Leithauser himself was the highlight, of course. He is one of those rare singers that can inject a staggering amount of passion into everything he puts his voice to. With his stubbly high-register howl, he naturally gives the impression of singing himself ragged with every note, though I suspect he’s just gifted with a voice that can do that at all times without getting hurt. He performed mostly songs written with Rostam, but also slipped in a few gems from his 2014 solo album, like the ebullient highlight “Alexandra.” The crowd went wild for his wailing high register, showcased most brilliantly on “The Bride’s Dad,” but his delicate baritone range shone beautifully on “Sick as a Dog,” making me wish for more of that intimate sound.

The applause when the band strode triumphantly backstage at the end of the set was unrelenting, and after a few minutes they came back for an encore. Hamilton sang the tender “1959” with only a backing track of bells and string flourishes to accompany him. He was tired, and it showed in his voice, but it made the moment all the more lovely and vulnerable. Looking around at the crowd, I saw all varieties of people: college students, middle-aged men and women drinking beers, hipsters and average Joes standing side by side, all listening silently and raptly to that golden voice. It really was beautiful.

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Listen to I Had A Dream That You Were Mine: