Five songs into Hamilton Leithauser’s headlining set at the Neptune Theatre last week, a man got down on one knee and proposed to his sweetheart. The news didn’t reach the stage until after the former frontman for The Walkmen howled the last refrain of “A 1000 Times,” from his latest studio LP, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, a collaboration between him and former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Bantmanglij.
Standing tall in a soon-to-be-discarded beige jacket, Leithauser peered down at a part in the front row. It looked like he was inspecting an accident. “Should I ask or should I not?” said Leithauser. The crowd cheered an affirmation. “Congratulations to the new couple,” said Leithauser. “This is very dark, lonely breakup song for you.” Then, he played “In a Black Out,” a Leonard Cohen-inspired song also from I Had A Dream…. As suggested by his funny, but dark response, Leithauser isn’t an artist you’d typically expect to soundtrack a proposal. Leithauser’s songs may be pretty and bright, but the characters that populate them are, more often than not, at least a little bit broken. Against a backdrop of timeless-sounding melodies, Leithauser’s characters struggle with scars in their past or yearn for impossible futures. Differences in decade aside, they're the kind of characters you might imagine going out for a drink with Simon & Garfunkel’s down-on-his-luck boxer (“The Boxer”) or Bob Dylan’s embittered narrator in “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”
“A 1000 Times,” for instance, follows a person wandering the streets of New York, dreaming of a lost love. Before it, Leithauser played “The Bride’s Dad,” an underdog’s waltz written from the perspective of a father who doesn’t get invited to his daughter’s wedding, shows up anyways, gives a speech, and gets kicked out. Leithauser witnessed the scene himself, he explained to the crowd. “I saw him cause this scene and be thrown out of the wedding as soon as he finished his toast,” said Leithauser. “And I was touched.” The crowd laughed, but Leithauser may have been only half-joking. He brought utter conviction to personifying each of his song’s characters. During “The Morning Stars,” which is about a ghost haunting a past partner, Leithauser howled with appropriate desperation. Later, on “You Ain’t That Young Kid,” Leithauser did his best Dylan, fishing a harmonica out of his jacket pocket and sing-speaking a few lines about stumbling out of a bar post-breakup. Whatever the songs called for, Leithauser delivered. The night was all the better because of his versatility and conviction.
Before Leithauser, Seattle singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews offered an equally compelling performance, bringing her distinctive mix of country, folk, and indie pop back to an eager hometown crowd. With a more-than-capable backing band behind her, Andrews performed flawless renditions of songs from her universally acclaimed 2016 LP, Honest Life.
She also gave a sneak preview of what’s to come, playing a handful of tracks from an upcoming album, which she recorded in L.A. this year. Many of Andrews’ new songs exhibited a fiery gospel edge. During one such song, “May Your Kindness,” the band slammed a hard beat together and then cut out completely. As if struck by the spirit, Andrews flung her arms out wide and kept singing. Soaring a cappella over the silence, she suddenly sounded just as much like Janis as she had like Joni. Andrews then pointed her index finger up at the ceiling, hit one of her highest notes that evening, and the crowd cheered. Andrews’ fourth record comes out in 2018.
Courtney Marie Andrews Setlist
Reports from Kaitlin Frick (KF), Dusty Henry (DH), Gabe Pollak (GP)