Hamilton Leithauser smiled between songs during The Walkmen
's set last night. Those smiles stood in stark contrast to his intensely focused, on-the-brink of-destruction singing and pointed lyrics.
It was a businesslike show. There was minimal exchange between singer and audience, with most of the music being presented in an almost formal manner. Maybe formal's the wrong word. "Professional" might be more suitable. Leithauser and company executed a set that spanned the band's consistent career, touching on You & Me, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, Bows + Arrows, A Hundred Miles Off, and their latest, what I've deemed a no-bull full length, Lisbon.
Swaying back and forth like a tide were about to float him away and gripping the mic stand as if grasping for dear life, Leithauser eased into the spacious, summery "Donde Esta La Playa." The vacationer vibe set the tone for the night, with a crowd full of people stuck in the muck of a warm room, not too tired to dance, and excited but in a leisurely way. It was all sweat, beer breath, and minimal exertion.
The Walkmen cut into the crisp drumming and bright guitars of "Angela Surf City" from Lisbon, arguably their most potent track since "The Rat." Leithauser sings in a bursting crescendo, "I used to see the sights. Now I dream of the time I was holding onto you for lack of anything to do." That yearning for an unpleasant past and upset with the lonely, unsatisfying present is the quintet's specialty; more specifically: exploration of dissatisfaction.
"In The New Year" saw Leithauser expelling vicious but restrained screams while veins bulged prominently. He wrapped the XLR cable to his mic around his wrist and sang upward like a pissed punk rocker. The balance and openness contrasting with the tightly wound anger made earlier work stand out from the new material, like the follow-up songs "Blue As Your Blood" and stomper "Victory," in which Leithauser's vocals are more relaxed and meditative.
They worked through the night with a smoothness that was almost suave. By the time we reached the crunch and grain of "All Hands And The Cook," Leithauser told us we were through. Did we believe it? Not for a second. One audience member yelled back: "Yeah right!"
It was as if The Walkmen had walked out on us, and somehow transferred their lyrical desperation and wistfulness to us via audibles. In our utter disbelief and denial we rejected their leaving, capturing the essence of the band in our assuredness that they'd soon return and we'd all be back in a happier place. So we screamed and begged for them to come back to us, confident, even a bit cocky, that our efforts would pay off.
We were right.
Leithauser sank into a rendition of the drumless, bare bones "New Country." Somewhere between the beginning and this point, he had steadied himself; no longer swaying with tide, but standing mostly still. Then, what most of us had been waiting to hear whether we would ever admit it or not, "The Rat" kicked the room into high gear with any and all the energy conserved throughout previous songs. We screamed the lyrics back, and once the song ended resumed our unassuming, if drenched in sweat, position. The Walkmen won back the upper hand in our all-inclusive relationship. They finished out the set, left, and this time we didn't beg for them to return, but moved on.
Critic's Bias: Long-time fan, first-time concert goer.
The Crowd: Damp folks and local music types, including members from Gospel Claws, The Whisperlights, Dear and The Headlights, and Black Carl.
Random Notebook Dump: At one point, toward the end of the set, a friend and I exchanged about two sentences about how great The Walkmen sound live. A lady behind us stuck in her nose and said, "I'm sorry, I actually want to hear this." Sorry madam, for talking during your personal rock show... Not.
Setlist: (Note: I tried to jot down the set as best I could, if I've missed something or included something in error, please let me know in the comments.)
Donde Esta La Playa
Angela Surf City
In The New Year
Blue As Your Blood
Postcards From Tiny Islands
We've Been Had
On The Water
Thinking Of A Dream I Had
Woe Is Me
All Hands And The Cook
Little House Of Savages
Another One Goes By