Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Concert Review: The Walkmen

The Walkmen w/ Atlas and My Friends
University of Delaware, 19 March 2010

Photo stolen from, by Joe del Tufo.

All right, so the Walkmen. For some reason this show didn't really move me towards the keyboard like the last two concerts did, but I'm going for it anyway. Hopefully it won't seem too forced.

The openers were both local bands of guys who were all pals with each other. First one (My Friends) had a black guy who at first just played extra percussion, but eventually started jumping up and down and doing some pretty wild dancing. The next band (Atlas) had better tunes but no one did any crazy leaping and bounding. Fair trade off, I suppose. You can't expect to get everything from one local band, you know? The drummer for Atlas reminded me of a drummer I played with in a jazz band one year. It actually was quite possible that it was the same guy, but I forgot to ask him about it.

So then the Walkmen came on stage and my first thought was a worry that they would be disappointed about the small crowd size. I mean, they're not a huge group by any means, but I'm pretty confident their shows usually draw more than the one hundred or so people who showed up here. Granted, this is just some college town in Delaware and not a big city. And I wasn't really worried that they would be upset about the crowd size, just that playing to so few people would cause them to phone it in and not give their all.

But then I took a minute to think logically and realized something important. How the hell would I know if they were giving 100% or not? I've never seen them before and I don't have any idea if I'll see them again. The only way I'll ever learn if they weren't putting effort into the show is if I see them again and they do a lot better. In which case, I'll probably be too busy enjoying the performance to care that on March 19th, 2010 they could have put on a better show. So I might as well just take what they give me and assume the best.

The Walkmen's live show reminds me of the National's. Like the National's Matt Berninger, Walkmen vocalist Hamilton Leithauser is not the most active frontman, but both singers have this deep intensity about them when they sing; they're not about to jump around, but the energy forces its way through in other ways. I imagine every Walkmen live review ever mentions Leithauser's neck vein, but with good reason--that thing bulges like mad. And when you see it throbbing, you know damn well he puts something real and passionate into every performance. Hell, the vocal demands in the group's tunes don't allow him to not strain himself every show.

Also like the National: the Walkmen have a great drummer who is just a joy to watch go about his business. Extraordinarily tight and controlled, but not rigid. And, to be honest, the fact that the guy's really really tiny makes it all the more delightful.

I couldn't have asked for a better set list. The hour and twenty minute show focused mainly on 2008's excellent You & Me, with several favorites included from their 2004 breakthrough Bows & Arrows, like the frequently-requested-via-shouting "The Rat" and the somewhat surprising sing-a-long "New Year's Eve." Plus, it's always a joy when some of the night's highlights are brand new songs; I'm really looking forward to the next record.

Who knows, maybe they were just fulfilling an obligation; perhaps the group routinely puts on far better shows. But when I get a perfect set list, a singer who really connects, and a show that I didn't have to drive into Philly for, I'm not even coming close to complaining.

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