The Walkmen / June 30, 2006 / Brooklyn, N.Y. (Warsaw)
The Walkmen have a lot going for them at the moment. The band's new album, "A Hundred Miles Off," is its best yet, revealing an expanding sound and a maturing outlook. And the band members seem as pleThe Walkmen have a lot going for them at the moment. The band's new album, "A Hundred Miles Off," is its best yet, revealing an expanding sound and a maturing outlook. And the band members seem as pleased with their current direction as much of the press has been, telling countless interviewers they feel like they've taken a considerable step forward with their new material.
But evolution is often accompanied by growing pains, and these were discernible in the group's hometown performance at Greenpoint, Brooklyn's Polish National House-cum-rock venue, Warsaw.
The band was greeted by an anxious crowd that had strained through two mediocre openers for an opportunity to see these local heroes at this mostly locals-only club. And the Walkmen were brimming with confidence as the set began, launching right into "The Blizzard of '96," a rarely-played song off the group's first album, "Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone." The relatively short and relatively sweet-sounding ditty led into what would turn out to be one of the evening's highlights, new anthem "Lost in Boston."
The five-piece throttled through a riveting rendition, with the amped-up energy carrying right over into "Thinking of a Dream I Had" from second album "Bows + Arrows." Here, several of the band members put in what can only be described as "full body" performances: singer Hamilton Leithauser rocked backed and forth as he drove his over-worked larynx to its breaking point, the keyboardist leapt out of his seat to pound out shimmering chords and the drummer thrashed around at his kit with a style like Animal from "The Muppets."
There would be other stunning assaults, including the working class call to arms "Tenley Town" and the beefed-up Monkees cover "Stepping Stone." But a number of titles drawn from the band's new album proved, at least at this early juncture, hard to pin down in a live setting. Suffering the cruelest fate was "Emma, Get Me a Lemon." A centerpiece of "A Hundred Miles Off," the studio version relies on a strong, throaty vocal cushioned by soulful organ and sparkling guitars. But in performance, Leithauser's voice had already begun to slip by what was only the evening's fifth entry, and the band, fighting too hard to fill the club's cold, cavernous space, misplaced the song's emotion.
"Don't Get Me Down (Come on Over Here)" fared similarly, with shrill lead guitars exacerbated by the unflattering acoustics of the room and Leithauser struggling to get his vocals across. Fortunately, the group turned its attention to quieter, more airy numbers later in the set, including "Another One Goes By" and the heartbreaking "138th Street." On these, the singer was given a chance to show off the gentler, fuller side of his voice, and the instruments, falling softly into the background, packed more power than they sometimes had when cranked.
The set ended with the swampy "Louisiana," another number that, while enjoyable, illustrated the band's shaky footing on some of its newer, more nuanced material. The song's rich colors were muted by an overzealous, wobbly take, and a group of the band's somewhat slovenly friends providing the track's horn parts lent an amateurish vibe to the whole affair.
Never in question, though, was the potency of the Walkmen's songs. Even when Leithauser's voice was failing or the instruments were bleeding together, the strong melodies and hooks were never lost.
Here is the Walkmen's set list:
"The Blizzard of '96"
"Lost in Boston"
"Thinking of a Dream I Had"
"Emma, Get Me a Lemon"
"Little House of Savages"
"Don't Get Me Down (Come on Over Here)"
"Another One Goes By"
"We've Been Had"
"What's in It for Me"
"That's the Punchline"