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Hamilton Leithauser at ACL Fest: a kick in the head and the heart

Eric Webb

Hamilton Leithauser is the only person, I think, who could sing a lyric like “Don’t trust the moonbeams” but also seem like he could easily smash my face into a bar at the same time.

New York City’s Leithauser is best known as the voice of indie rockers the Walkmen, and he is a helluva voice, at that. Screaming through heartbreak on “A 1000 Times.” Crooning through scuff-marked memories made hazy from gutter steam on other tunes. The singer gave nothing less than 100 percent during his professional-yet-congenial Friday set at Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Leithauser’s collaborative album with former Vampire Weekend producer Rostam Batmanglij is a rad gallery of sonic anachronisms, taking a little doo wop here, a little blues meltdown there and letting the chips fall where they may at full volume.

The Barton Springs stage attracted a clutch of Leithauser fans before set time, soon to navigate an urgent romantic pursuit set against the comforting/refreshing/”Heart and Soul” reminiscent “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up).” Leithauser said his band was made up of Austinites (the crowd’s “neighbors”), and his drummer gave his teeth the right amount of grit to match the song’s doggedness.

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Leithauser knows how to sketch a story to go with his timeless sounds. You would have thought you could remember the “midnight when we used to dance under the ugly halogen lamps.” You might have obliged the singer when he asked you to “blow me some smoke, I don’t mind it in my eyes.” Smart money for set highlight, though, was the appropriately named “1959.” There, Leithauser assumed full rap battle stance at the start, bracing himself for vein-popping, sustained high notes by shifting foot to foot. His use of comforting, familiar musical motifs was a feint to sing about messing around, those aforementioned moonbeams and nothing short of the inevitability of death.

Intense and sensitive: Leithauser’s set kept your heart roaring even after it faded in the sun.

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