As he sauntered onstage for his local headlining debut, Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes greeted the sold-out Troubadour crowd by wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day, adding “would you be my date” with an easy smile. That was the first hint that the guitarist was not going to slavishly follow the template of his band. It’s hard to imagine Julian Casablancas, the Strokes frontman, even acknowledging Valentine’s Day, much less asking for a date. And with Hammond’s easygoing stage presence, he manages to pull off an engaging, tautly paced 45-minute show.
Hammond’s vocals, as might be expected, share certain tics, timbre and phrasing with Casablancas, he leavens the songs with a vulnerable sweetness and likability. They both can sound like wounded swains singing on the sidewalk outside their girlfriend’s apartment, but there’s a sense Hammond cares if the girl comes to window; it may leave him a less distinctive presence, but one that’s easier to root for.
Much of the music stays within the parameters established by the Strokes: the three guitarists favor that band’s slashing, metronomic guitar interplay, and drummer Matt Romano provides a looser version of the Strokes’ subway train propulsiveness. But Hammond’s influences cast a wider net. The stop-time riff and fractured dynamics of “Holiday” recall the Pixies (he also covers a Frank Black song), and he’s not afraid to throw in some big ’70s rock chords and a clever key change in the middle of “101.” The differences are easiest to discern on slower numbers such as “Holiday” the ukelele-driven “Call an Ambulance” (where the object of lust “only wanted to be friends”) and “Scared,” a swaying pop ballad in which Hammond’s light rasp leans toward Jeff Lynne while Todd Dahlhoff’s chunky bass nudges the song in the direction of the Move and ELO.
Regardless of what the Stokes do next, Hammond deserves more time in the spotlight.
Hammond returns to Los Angeles on March 6 for a date at the El Rey, opens up for Bloc Party’s Gotham shows on March 30 and 31, and headlines the Bowery Ballroom on April 2.