– GORILLA, MANCHESTER –
When you think of the New York City indie rock scene, you instantly recall bands like The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs surfacing in the first knockings of the new millennium. Before that Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and Blondie pioneered the movement in The Big Apple. What’s often overlooked is the city’s second wave of indie, which came towards the end of the first decade of this century. Bands like Vampire Weekend and The Walkmen made catchy and clever music which perhaps didn’t resonate as much with listeners due to a seeming lack of immediacy. Two products of those bands are Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij, who teamed up for one of last year’s best records, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. Tonight Leithauser plays a sold out show to a 700-strong Gorilla, bringing a little piece of New York to Manchester.
Support act Matthew Maltese is first on stage with only his piano for company. He slaps the keys with a cool confidence, playing his style of John Lennon-esque ballads to the growing crowd. His music is reminiscent of Tobias Jesso Jr’s, and a perfect warm up for main act Leithauser.
Hamilton Leithauser is a mountain of a man and, dressed in a bright white denim jacket, it looks as if he’s radiating his own light in Gorilla as he walks on stage. There’s no Rostam tonight – which is a shame – but judging by several Walkmen t-shirts knocking about in the crowd, people are here to see the main man.
He and his band – drummer, bassist and keyboardist – come on to ‘Sick as a Dog’ and almost instantly the reason tonight is a sell-out becomes evident. Leithauser ends the song by belting out the lyrics, “I use the same voice I have always had” in his distinct raspy tone. His voice truly is astounding and a joy to watch. He’s being doing it for the best part of the last 20 years, and whether it’s with The Walkmen or solo it’s still as great as ever.
What’s so good about I Had a Dream That You Were Mine is the amount of variation within the ten tracks and that’s evident live more than ever. There’s bluesy music, folk and straight up indie rock; he’s been described as a perfect medium between Dylan and Springsteen, and that is a pretty accurate portrayal.
Four songs into the set and Leithauser has already shown that versatility. He picks up his nylon stringed classical guitar and starts to fingerpick ‘In a Blackout’, which has recently been given a remix by Cassius. The song builds and before long is into full ballad mode, it’s truly classic sounding. There are instants where the high-pitched backing vocals are reminiscent of poppy Vampire Weekend songs and Rostam’s influence is there even in his absence.
After a story about a tearful speech at a New York City wedding and accompanying song, ‘The Bride’s Dad’, he’s straight into ‘A 1000 Times’ and it’s life affirming stuff. Pockets of the crowd embrace and everyone in Gorilla is singing along. For a sort of debut album the adoration Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam songs get is unprecedented. Gorilla is by no means a small venue but the place is packed out.
The band encore with the crooning ‘1959’ and whilst there’s not the usual aggression in Leithauser’s voice, it’s evident he can also be controlled in his performance. “One day I’ll start to listen”, he sings, a sentiment nobody else present tonight can share with him – the whole crowd has been transfixed from start to end.
Tonight’s gig truly is a dream, and one I’d happily have 1000 times whilst never getting bored.