As he ploughs through his solo set at New York’s Terminal 5 venue (January 10th), Albert Hammond Jr. is beginning to inspire one or two questions. The chief of those being: what exactly is it all for?
The tracks we’re offered here – a liberal smattering from the handful of albums and EPs which have emerged from the Strokes guitarist since 2006 – all seem to congeal into one indistinguishable lump, each weighed down by an unwavering formula of fast-and-slow guitar work playing out a steady pattern of basic, unspectacular chords with no cohesive chain of thought or window into the world of one of New York’s leading 21st century rock darlings. Only ‘Blue Skies‘, introduced tonight as an ‘acoustic song on the electric guitar’, at least puts a different taste on the palette as the performance’s most pressing question is being chewed over.
That question – of motivation, of desire – is one most musicians wrestle with at least once in their career. For Hammond Jr., perhaps the answer is sheer necessity; while by 2013 The Strokes had put a lengthy period of inactivity behind them with the release of two albums in three years, the various bandmates have in that time been about as active gig-wise as Tupac‘s hologram. If that’s enough to keep pushing their guitarist back into the centre-stage spotlight, for the thrill of the chase and the primal addiction of rock and roll, then he should of course be applauded.
But on this evidence, that passion desperately needs to be translated and unleashed more urgently into his own music – discovering that combination could be the key to Albert Hammond Jr. growing into the solo force HIStory so obviously craves.
For headliner Jake Bugg, there are no such dilemmas. Still riding the care-free wave whipped up by his self-titled debut album, Bugg saunters onstage in his now trademark apathetic fashion, punctuating the first half of his set with some of the brightest cuts from that record. The rootsy anti-glamour of ‘Trouble Town‘ for instance now feels like a signature anthem, while the more simple sing-a-long invitations of ‘Seen It All‘ and especially ‘Two Fingers‘ are a joy to behold.
‘Country Song‘, which sparks a compelling, no frills acoustic section with an intimacy and skeletal delivery few would dare venture into, couldn’t be more simple or brief, but is unlikely to ever lose its sentient fragility for that very reason.
Despite being recorded in the Rick Rubin-owned Californian studio from which his second album ‘Shangri La‘ takes its name, main-set closers ‘What Doesn’t Kill You‘ and ‘Slumville Sunrise‘ strangely owe more to mid-Noughties UK indie than anything from its predecessor, though other sophomore efforts such as ‘Simple Pleasures‘ and ‘Kingpin‘ tantalisingly glimpse – with an odd flourish here and a little bending there – at a prestigious guitar talent which as yet, in the studio certainly, is still just bubbling under the surface.
On a final ‘Lightning Bolt‘ bang, Bugg departs with all the understated confidence of a young man with the world at his feet, leaving the night’s most exciting question in his wake:
Just how far can he go?
Check out our exclusive gallery from Friday night’s Terminal 5 gig in full right here.
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