The Walkmen

There are bands you know are good but can’t click on you completely until you see them live. Then, when it finally happens it is going to be enduring love.

One of these bands are The Walkmen. One of these gigs was their Islington Academy warm up show for Reading and Leeds. Not sure how their set worked at a large festival but in the cosier of the O2-sponsored academies in London this was an awesome show.

I own Bow + Arrows since it was out and it is a brilliant album containing, among other great tunes, their landmark song The Rat.

Landmark songs are what bands hate, with a reason.
Landmark songs are the one all people know and non-fans wait for at concerts. Bands play 90 minutes with half the audience waiting for the encore to listen to that single song.
It can be acceptable for one-hit-wonders, it is not for a band that has recorded 6 brilliant albums to date.

I reckon a good suggestion, for a band who wants to get rid of the pain of having a career defining song, is to play it straight as the opener. Then the audience has to cope with the rest and the rest, quite often, is as good when not better.

The indie professor on the Guardian music blogs may have a clear explanation why this happens, but one of my simple reason is that people have been listening to that single song one million time more than the others.
Repeated listening penetrate in the mind and are difficult to get rid of.
Landmark songs have also the problem to become the bench of comparison with any other song the band records in the future, which makes the comparison unfair for the same reason, million listening vs first listening.

I am having this problem with Beach House’s Zebra these days, which is simply so beautiful I can’t listen to the rest of Teen Dream without being biased. Well, I don’t want to talk about Dream Pop until I manage to photograph them sometimes this autumn. Fingers crossed.

I want to talk about this gig the Walkmen did also the occasion to present their upcoming Lisbon live for the first time to a UK audience.

The Walkmen are from New York City, this is now becoming boring and useless to point out. eight in 10 bands nowadays are from NYC or moved to NYC or would love to be in NYC or play as they were in NYC. Big Apple season.

The Walkmen gravitated for almost 10 years in the obscure galaxy of independent labels. They changed four in six albums and landed recently on the wonderful pair of two of my favourites: Fat Possum (in US) and Bella Union (in UK).

Among the advantage of changing label is the need to convince someone to sign you up. It puts a different pressure, from having to tour and promote yourself as much as possibile, to having to write ever-growing great music. The horizon out there is packed, the landscape has never been so overcrowded by countless bands. More coming every single day. Either you are good or you are out.
If you have six album these times, you must be extremely good. Period.

If Bow + Arrows is superb, the two follow ups, still made with Record Collection, are less.
Instead a bounce in quality arrived with You & Me when the band, dropped by Record Collection (guessing), struggled to have a proper physical release. The album went digital for charity, then find a proper distribution. It stays there as another impressive set of songs with In The New Year easily sitting next to The Rat among their best tunes.

I haven’t listen properly to Lisbon which is due on the 14th of September but from the few songs I heard live from the concert and from my friend’s promo, it sounds very “Walkmen” hence very good.

When the Walkmen come on stage tonight, they look like a grew up group of students who studied poetry from one of those American colleges, dreaming of becoming Oscar Wilde or Rimbaud. Remember the movie Dead Poets Society? Something like that shifted on 2010 rock music scene.

Hamilton Leithauser is the singer, the best dressed, the tallest and clearly the magnet catching most eyes.
Nothing wrong with it, but Walkmen are a real band.
Probably the most solid band I saw live since the Bad Seeds lost Mick Harvey. Any of them adds up to the sound but is the collective that makes the sum bigger than the single parts.

They show self-confidence and demonstrate it opening with a brand new song Blue As Your Blood. It follows with that You & Me single (it sounds even more amazing live) In the New Year and move to another new song from Lisbon.

I enjoyed shooting them for the first three (no flash), but it’s time to listen to the gig which I have been waiting since I missed their show, don’t ask (!), at the Pavement’s ATP. Considering the line-up of that festival and tonight’s gig it may have been easily the best of the entire lot.

Without the camera filtering between me and the stage I have a clearer look at the ensemble and a better hear at the sound. The Walkmen reminds me of what many more famous bands should have been if they were half as good as these five guys are.
The first that springs to my mind are Interpol, later on during the gig I will find myself reflecting on U2. Ugh.

Interpol for the B&W look, I even felt the urge of putting on a 35mm film. The massive drumming supported by the less evident but effective bass/organ lines sustain the dynamism. I have not listened to such a good, sound defining drummer for a while, Walkmen’s Matt Barrick has the same, rare capability of having a recognizable drumming. I am thinking at his fellow-citizen Bryan Devendorf of the National.

U2 because the jangling guitar of Paul Maroon made me think of what The Edge could be if, instead of getting distract into Berlin electronics in the 90s, would optimize his metallic rattles that made U2 the greatest band in the world in the 80s.

This doesn’t leave out the frontman. Hamilton Leithauser isn’t a magnet just for his stage presence, so full of energetic romance and theatrical aggressiveness, he also has such a powerful voice you wonder how he can get not to the end of a tour, but to the end of a single gig with its vocal folds intact. It sounds an easy addition but the nasal timbre is a Bob Dylan reminder, no wonder they used to cover Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Among slower and fast tunes from most of the discography, the gig remains on a five stars level throughout, and closes on a high with the everyone expected The Rat generating a mayhem that nowadays translates in “increase of mobile phones shooting, videorecording and twittering” (See the photo tip, below). It is followed by Juveniles, the song opening Lisbon, few knew, it is wonderful and played without mobiles hindering the view.

Time for the encore and time for me to make that “click” that I have mentioned on the opening line, permanent. The band comes back with New Country , followed by Donde Está la Playa very appropriate question on the most rainy day of the most rainy August since I am in the most rainy country in the world.

Then Thinking of A Dream I Had. Full stop.
I haven’t noticed the vigour of this song, not from the Bow + Arrows album version. Live it sounded so gripping I was overwhelmed. I never wanted it to end and it lasted a lot. The train like drumming gave the impression the stage was on the point to take off and run over the audience, the guitar and the voice, one chasing the other, brought the gig to a such a high it had been difficult to get down in the following three days.

I kept listening to the song a million times, looking for different versions on youtube or wherever else, until Beach House’s Zebra managed to break through one of my CD players and took me back to reality. Good.

Now I have to wait 2 weeks to give a proper listening to Lisbon and two months to see Beach House live. I am looking forward to both

You shouldn’t miss The Walkmen if you can. They are about to tour with The National and Japandroids in USA then come back to UK in November to open for the Black Keys making easily any of these your gig of the year whichever side of the Atlantic you live.

In the meanwhile you have their [website] [myspace]

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Photo tip

This is not a tip (only for) photographers, actually photographers know and with the first three no flash rule we don’t have much choice. This is for the fans shooting gigs from the audience.

As simple as this:
“Your favourite song or the band most famous song is not best to photograph than the rest.”

Social networks and hi-tech mobiles are changing our society in many aspects. YouTube and Facebook show how gig going is not anymore something to experience ourselves but something to share, live, with faraway friends (or, erm… followers). Either to make them jealous or to make them happy sending them the picture looks more important than listening to the song.
Nothing wrong, society changes, so the way we relate and interrelate does. I may disagree but I understand.

This tip doesn’t aim to change the OCD attitude of the ones compulsively recording everything, photographing everything, “posting” everything, “tweetering” everything. that is a no win situation.

This is for the ones happy taking just a few shots at a gig.

Enjoy your favourite songs! There is no music in photography, the lighting of a show is pretty much similar from song to song at least until Pink Floyd reunite.
Your friends will not know that they play “that” song from the picture you post, they’ll know if you tell them. Cheat! Shot any other song, the ones you don’t like and enjoy the gig. You can always tell them that pic was takend during that song if it really matters.
You will make some other people (the minority recently) happy to enjoy the music and seeing the band without a thousand arms raising to photograph the moment you have been waiting to listen to.

Make an effort, there is no point to relive a concert experience if you haven’t lived it at first place.

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~ by Valerio on September 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Walkmen”

  1. Great write up about the Walkmen, thanks for the thoughts and pictures.

  2. seen them in galway ireland 16 nov roisin dubh awesome gig

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