Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Walkmen

Several years back, my sister invited me to see The Walkmen in Detroit. I had one of their records but had rarely listened to it. I didn't know whether I wanted to go or not. On a whim, I decided to join her and her then-boyfriend for the road trip north.

On the way, they played mostly The Walkmen's first release, Everyone Who
Pretended to Like Is Gone. The record I owned was half of this album. The band had released Everyone on an LP in a black sleeve and one in white. I bought it because I heard that they were coming to Columbus for some festival. I never went the fest or really listened to the LP.

Anyway, we landed in Detroit's Magic Stick to see what turned out to be an energizing and memorable set. The Walkmen tore through a selection of songs I didn't know (except for "We've Been Had" which had been prominently been featured on a Saturn ad), but I w
as just blown away. They had this drunken energy that made the show feel more like it was happening in my living room, not a billiards hall in downtown Detroit.

What sets this band apart is their crossing of rhythm and blues tradition with a sloppy, punk aesthetic. The drummer is tiny, but he plays like a madman. Vintage organs, pianos, and guitars are stretched to their outer limits as the band squeezes every ounce of noise they can muster from each antique. Then there's front man Hamilton Leithauser's howl that is equal parts lament and shriek. (However, it's more of a straight scream live.)

The subject matter fits the band maybe better than any other. They describe the drunken debauchery of a night out, wandering through Williamsburg. Or that terrible mo
ment you bump into an ex at the bar. Or lazy hangover mornings where only another drink will get rid of your headache.

They don't drink beer. They drink Tom Collins or Manhattans.

There is something that is both new and vintage about this band that ma
kes them timeless. I'll rock out to "The Rat" or "Wake Up" ten or fifteen years from now. The songs feel like that old friend you haven't seen since college, but now you hang out all the time and have a completely new relationship. The combination of the old and new have influenced an entire Brooklyn scene that now includes The White Rabbits, Harlem Shakes, and White Denim (well, maybe they're from Austin).

I've seen the band several times since that show in Detroit and have never been disappointed. The last time I saw them was at Springfest on Ohio State's campus a few years back. To use a friend's term of endearment, it was a "shit-ton of fun" dancing, heckling, and calling for favorites. The mooks in the crowd had no idea what was going on. "When are they gonna play 'The Rat'?" they wondered.

Hopefully, a similar show will happen this weekend when The Walkmen play Mizzou's version of Springfest at the Blue Note. It's free to students and 2 bucks for everyone else. The times are strange as the fest start around 1 and ends at 8. I have an odd, late lunch/early dinner to attend (argh, people with kids!) before going. I plan to high-tail it over to the Note just in time to catch The Walkmen. Look for me to be the aging hipster in the back, heckling the hipsters and mooks alike.


GE said...

I discovered The Walkmen as I do many bands, ass backwards. It was that recent Harry Nilsson cover record Pussy Cats that actually hooked me. It's super-flawed, but that energy is what struck me, and made me go back and listen to the rest of their catalog.

comoprozac said...

I always wondered who bought the other copy of Pussy Cats.

Hey, I think we know the same guy.