Monday, September 15, 2008

Concert Review: The Walkmen

Originally written for and published on

The Walkmen – Metro, 9/12/08
Getting Drunk With The Walkmen

I walked the seven blocks to the Metro in the drizzling rain, the kind of sprinkling rain too light to justify an umbrella but heavy enough to soak the tops of your shoulders and cuffs of your trousers. The lights of the city at night blurred and refracted through my rain-dropped eyeglass lenses, already struggling to do their job thanks to the Knob Creek and ginger ale cocktails that accompanied my dinner. As the fractured brilliance of the marquee read, The Walkmen were performing tonight, and it seemed only appropriate that I should be as soaked – in rain or in whiskey – as their booze-addled songs are.

I knew after ordering my first Jack and Coke that this seven-dollar single-shot would not do. By the time opening act – bohemian gypsy rockers, Golem – finished their raucous set, I had found my spot at the front of the balcony and was ordering a second drink. For three dollars more I received a cup twice as large but burned with what must’ve been three times as much whiskey. The house lights dimmed and the Walkmen took the stage, ready to prove (among other things) that they were undoubtedly the best band in the world to listen to while getting drunk on whiskey.

Single shafts of light backlit Paul Maroon, hunched over his vintage Gibson, and Hamilton Leithauser, standing stoically behind the mike stand, as the minimalism of “New Country” opened the evening slowly, simply and significantly. Drummer Matt Barrick, bassist Walter Martin, and keyboardist Peter Bauer joined in for the Ennio Morricone vibe of “Postcards from Tiny Islands” next, and the packed house came to life. The Walkmen really hit their stride with breakout hit from recent release You & Me, “In the New Year”. When Leithauser wails “I never hear the bad news/and I never will/we won by a landslide/our troubles are over”, I wonder if he’s ordering from the same bartender as me.

The initial hour of the set was filled primarily with tracks from You & Me, briefly disjoined by “Thinking of a Dream” and “Wake Up”. Something becomes self-evident during this stretch: Hamilton Leithauser would drive vocal coaches to the brink of insanity. His lilting, swinging delivery carries with it the dizzying ups and downs of the town drunk telling far-fetched tales too abstract to believe, too earnest to ignore. When he lets loose with his ululating howls he remains pitch-perfect, no different on stage than in the studio. At heart, though, he’s a crooner, some strange hybrid of Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra. Leithauser holds no restraint on “The Rat”, but the sound is utterly natural, his vocal cords never seem strained, never a fear of polyps or injuries that plagued those progenitors.

I struggle mentally, listening to “What’s In It For Me”, wishing for more ice in my glass, trying to determine if there is, or has ever been, a better whiskey-drinking song. My fellow concert-goers have no answer for me aside from bemused glances on that front. “I Lost You” and “The Blue Route” showcase the unique percussive talents of Matt Barrick, utilizing maracas, guiros, and rim shots that make for world and jazz beats. The Mexicali blues of “Louisiana” have me wondering if I’ve been drinking tequila all along, rather than my whiskey.

When the Walkmen resume their places on stage for the three-song encore, I finish the remaining gulp like it’s the last spoonful of medicine before bed, and there’s no need for sugar to help it go down. This performance has been enough to do the trick. Leithauser and Co. have gotten me sufficiently intoxicated. As they finish the night with B-side “Fly Into the Mystery”, my head swims and my heart swells, eager to take on the unknown. I stepped back out into the rain-soaked night and started walking.

“New Country”
“Postcards from Tiny Islands”
“In the New Year”
“Canadian Girl”
“Thinking of a Dream”
“Wake Up”
“Long Time Ahead of Us”
“Donde Esta la Playa”
“On the Water”
“Red Moon”
“The Rat”
“What’s In It For Me”
“I Lost You”
“The Blue Route”
“Little House of Savages”
“Fly Into Mystery”

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