On Thursday, February 25, those willing to boogie down on a school night took to the Hollow Bar and Kitchen in Albany to see Tom Hamilton’s American Babies. Considered to be “the hardest working man in show business,” Hamilton proved once again that this hard work pays off. The crowd, while somewhat sparse considering the talent on stage, was thoroughly impressed as evident by cheers, dancing and plenty of “Hamilton’s the man” exclamations.
The evening began with opening act Bump, a three piece ensemble with Americana sounds similar to that of their headliner. American Babies rhythm guitarist Justin Mazer joined the trio for a rendition of “Angels from Montgomery,” which was as rocking as it was sweet.
American Babies played “What Does it Mean to Be” early in their set, a song from their new and still unreleased album, An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark, which kept the crowd as equally intrigued as it was satisfied. The song is about not feeling your age or what society tells us we should feel like at a certain age; the album is set to release on March 18.
The rest of the set was cover heavy and was surely influenced by Hamilton’s experiences in his other projects. “State Police” and “Let’s Start a Gang,” both Brother’s Past songs, provided opportunities for spacey yet upbeat jams. Directly following this was several Grateful Dead covers including “Big River” and “Cumberland Blues,” in which Mazer delivered the solo of the night.
“Buckle in, we’re just getting started,” Hamilton tells the crowd as he took off his pin-decorated jacket to reveal a black t-shirt with the text “9:30” in large white letters, likely from the famed club in Washington D. C. Drummer Al Smith also changed out a cymbal in preparation for what was to come.
They picked up with another Grateful Dead song, “The Wheel” which led into the American Babies’ version of “Jolene” and then back into “The Wheel,” adding depth to the familiar sound and inches to my perma-grin.
The Babies then did another cover, this time Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” but again adding something to it all their own.
Throughout the set, Hamilton seemed to have chemistry with every member of the band. Smith and Bassist Mark Sosnoskie looked to him as a leader, awaiting cues for their next move while he and Mazer bounced back and forth taking turns as the star. His professional chemistry was only amplified by that of the romantic sort with guitarist Raina Mullen. They harmonize well on stage and off it as well as a couple.
The night ended with even more Dead, “Deal,” and I’m just left thinking how much Hamilton really sounds like Jerry Garcia at this point. Clearly, his work with Billy and the Kids and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has become ingrained in his repertoire. If for any reason John Mayer stops playing with Dead and Company, Tom Hamilton is the obvious choice to step in.