Gig Review: Hamilton Leithauser and Lucy Dacus at The Opera House

There’s a certain excitement that comes with the first concert of a new year. With a lull in live music around the holidays, diving back into my routine of as many concerts as possible is one of my favourite feelings, and I often look to the first one as the kick off. That night sets the tone for the rest of the year in a way, gauging my excitement and commitment and setting me up for the coming months. This year, my kick off concert couldn’t have been better, and it’s still fresh enough in my mind to make my heart beat fast as I recall it.

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij released I Had a Dream That You Were Mine last year, and within a couple listens it became one of my favourite albums of twenty-sixteen. I struggle to even find words to explain how it sounds or to slap a genre on it – a couple labels doesn’t really do it justice, because it’s so much more expansive than that. When it was announced that Leithauser would be touring the record, I jumped at the chance to see it performed live, and I had been waiting for it ever since scoring the tickets.

The night kicked off with an incredibly beautiful set by Lucy Dacus, a name that I had heard buzzing around music blogs and websites, but who I had never committed to listening to. The singer is soft-spoken and charming, and put on a set that had the crowd singing along and screaming loudly between tracks. Her music, as well as Lucy herself, is instantly likeable and hard to get out of your head. I loved the entirety of her performance, and as soon as she walked offstage I hoped that she would get back on for a couple more songs.

This was one of the rare concerts that is so perfectly timed you could cry. Lucy’s set lasted forty-five minutes, leaving only a short wait before Leithauser and his band turned up onstage. They wasted no time in getting started, and in my mind that’s always best. The audience is there for the music, the band is there for the music, so you might as well just get to it.

Leithauser played for an hour, moving rambunctiously through tracks from his collaboration with Rostam as well as songs from his own previous releases. He was engaging, telling stories between songs, pulling a harmonica out of his pocket and wailing away on it while the drummer fixed a broken pedal, and making a thousand-person venue feel surprisingly intimate. The entire thing felt haphazard and thrown together on a whim, but that’s what made it special, and it ended up being one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to.

The entire set was spectacular, but some songs just nestle themselves into your heart space, which makes hearing them live that much more special. I loved the performance of ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid,’ a bluesy, folky track that Hamilton fumbled and lazily spoke his way through. ‘Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)’ showed off his screeching vocals and had the entire crowd shouting simultaneously. ‘Sick as a Dog,’ ‘Peaceful Morning,’ and ‘In a Black Out’ were all wonderful in their own right, each one pulling me further into Hamilton’s world. That closeness is something I haven’t felt in a while, and it was amazing to be at a concert filled with moments that felt like mine and mine alone.

The last few moments of the set either make or break a show. Before the encore, Leithauser played ‘A 1000 Times,’ a mind-blowingly incredible song that had me retreating into my own world and closing my eyes to feel every word that was sung. Coming back on a few minutes later, the band brought out Lucy Dacus and did a haunting rendition of ‘1959,’ the one track on I Had a Dream That You Were Mine that features female vocals. Hamilton stripped himself of his guitar, standing right at the edge of the stage with the mike cord tangled through his fingers, singing with immense fervour. Dacus provided the complimentary melodies, standing shyly off to the side but catching the audience’s attention nonetheless. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

As the concert ended for real and the audience began to file out of the venue, I walked back to my apartment feeling full and content. The show had been more than I initially prepared myself for, and that kind of happy surprise stays with you. The past three days I’ve listened to nothing but Hamilton + Rostam, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s a lovely album created and performed beautifully, and I would die to hear it live again. I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.

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