The Walkmen @ Crescent Ballroom| Sunday, September 16, 2012
The Walkmen have always sounded worn. "Sometimes I'm just happy I'm older," singer Hamilton Leithauser belted on "We've Been Had," from the magnificent and wonderfully titled Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, all the way back in 2002.
Ten years later, he's still writing about getting older, singing "I was the Duke of Earl, but it couldn't last/I was the Pony Express, but I ran out of gas" on "We Can't Be Beat," from 2012's Heaven, a song that serves as a sort of spiritual sequel to "We've Been Had." It's a rare kind of song, one that doesn't mourn for lost youth so much as champion the art of living right now, and The Walkmen are a rare kind of band, one that rages as well as they contemplate, with style and showmanship lacking from the downward-gazing mopers they often get lumped in with. The Walkmen proved this much at Crescent Ballroom last night.
The show was sold out, but the crowd was mellow leading up to the moment the band shuffled out of the dressing room in blazers, slacks, and crisp white shirts. Leithauser looked like a different guy than the one I spotted at the bar beforehand in a baseball cap, polo, jeans, and flip-flops.
Opening with "Hang On, Siobhan," which waltzes like a song from the band's noted inspiration Harry Nilsson, the band wasted no time informing the crowd that moments of the show would be quiet and tense, with the lights low and the mood somber, but the next two selections displayed the other side of the coin: the Sun Records rockabilly swoon of "Blue As Your Blood" and "The Love You Love" both rocked with tight-rope precision.
When I last saw the band, opening the massive Bon Iver/Fleet Foxes double bill at Comerica Theatre, they were good but held back by the opening band blues. At Crescent, they made it clear that they are headliners, pure and simple.
"Heartbreaker," a stand out from Heaven, chimed with vintage college rock guitars courtesy of most-of-the-time guitarist Paul Maroon (he played piano, too), while "Juveniles" benefited from the smooth moves of organist (and occasional guitarist and bassist) Peter Bauer. Bassist Walter Martin (who also did time on the organ) and drummer Matt Barrick are both all-stars, anchoring the sometimes discordant and disjointed moves of their bandmates with agile dedication to driving the songs forward.
Gripping the mic and screaming, Leighhauser won over the crowd with playful banter.
"Congratulations to your Arizona Cardinals," Leithauser told the cheering crowd. "I lost a lot of money on that game." Later, he remarked, "It's good to be here, and I never say it's good to be here."
The energy felt right. When the band returned for a brief encore, I was surprised when they ripped into "The Rat," from 2004's Bows + Arrows. The band's most overtly "rock" tune, and one that found them uncomfortably lumped in with the "rock is back" hype of the early 2000s, the song demonstrates exactly why the band has outlived such gimmicky fads.
"When I used to go out, I knew everyone I saw/now I go out alone if I go at all," Leithauser intoned, with a world-weary grin. It's that sentiment, a grown-up shrug in the face of youthful arrogance that set the band apart then, and it has the same effect now. That the band can pull it off with the youthful exuberance of teenagers sells it all the more.
Last night: The Walkmen @ Crescent Ballroom The crowd: Mellow, mature, but more than happy to shout when called for. Overheard: "Nicely done!" (Sort of a cool alternative to "Woooooooooooo!") Number of guys in The Walkmen wearing nice shoes onstage: 5 Ever wanted to hear a sorta Mumford and Sons-ish Rendition of Sufjan Stevens' "Chicago?" Openers Milo Greene might be the band for you.
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Hang on, Siobhan Blue As Your Blood The Love You Love Heartbreaker All Hands and the Cook Juveniles Line By Line Love Is Luck Angela Surf City Woe Is Me On the Water The Blue Route Canadian Girl In the New Year We Can't Be Beat Heaven Encore: Dónde Está La Playa The Rat We've Been Had