Friday, Jan. 22, 2012
Better than: The Walkmen playing at a sunny outdoor festival.
The Walkmen played the first of two sold out shows at the Independent on a very rainy Friday night, in celebration of the band's 10th Anniversary. For the band's hardcore fans -- of which there are apparently many -- it was a must-see show; the hordes arrived wet and excited. The Walkmen rattled through over 35 songs from all of their five studio albums. Having them seen them play at the two major S.F. festivals in the last few years, it was clear that their simple broken-down garage blues was better suited to a confined space.
Onstage, Hamilton Leithauser holds the mic above his face like a heavyweight waiting to hit a punch bag, and boy does he have some lungs. Outside of hardcore and punk I have never seen anyone put so much into every note, except maybe a young Liam Gallagher. He bellows out mostly slow crooning melodies as though he is singing for his life. How he has kept up this mesmeric singing technique over 10 years without ripping something in his throat is a wonder. To say he sounds like a young Rod Stewart may seem like an odd compliment to some, but if you go back to some of The Faces' more raucous years, you'll hear a similar bluesy howl.
The Walkmen are a simple band: drummer Matt Barrick has one cymbal, guitarist Paul Maroon has one effects pedal, and pianist Walter Bauer for the most part avoided his synth on Friday and stuck to a beautiful-sounding vintage upright piano. When surging into the huge indie hit "The Rat," the band sounded like a rocketship taking off, with machine-gun drum rolls and sharp ascending guitar stabs, and of course Hamilton's huge voice.
But for the most part, the sound of the Walkmen is classic mid-tempo rock 'n' roll. Leithauser is a modern day crooner, and he clearly enjoyed this projected style as he introduced the band in his ill-fitting suit and tie, like a Closing Time-era Tom Waits. Highlights of the set included "On The Water" from the band's most revered album, 2008's You & Me, and the tear-jerking "Red Moon," complete with horn section, from the same album. After "Red Moon" incited a comforting sway amongst the soggy crowd, Hamilton thanked the horn section -- "Thanks to these guys, it's amazing what you can find on Craigslist."
The band is currently in the studio working on its sixth studio offering, and so the Walkmen treated the crowd to two new songs, including "The Witch," which on first impressions sounded more concise than anything off their last album, Lisbon, and could well be the lead single.
Their aren't many bands that can play almost non-stop for nearly over two and a half hours and keep the crowd with them. Some people left at midnight but most were reverential, staying until the last note in the early hours of Saturday. The Walkmen have a very old school sound and aesthetic, and what they lack in musical complexity they make up for in heart and soul. The band's adoring fans walked out into the rain content, looking forward to the next 10 years.
Overheard: Said an S.F. hipster with East Coast envy: "Look at the bass player's haircut, that's sooo Manhattan."
Highlights: "Red Moon" for getting teary, and of course, "The Rat" -- one of the best indie rock songs of the last decade.