Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Walkmen at the Troubadour. Los Angeles. 8.22.08

The Walkmen are sort of a flawless lot, and even with a mish-mash of critical reviews in their recent history, I'd call them the rare group that does little wrong, if any. Say what you will about the inconsistency of A Hundred Miles Off, that You & Me is a proper return to form – the newest is among their best, true, but even A Hundred Miles Off was worth some excitement, offering some unexpected punk drumming, and some expected brass and beauty.

You & Me, in any case, is beautiful, and last night, at the second of the band's Troubadour performances, much of the record was put on display, only to blend seamlessly with the band's earlier (and mostly-mellow) efforts.

The Walkmen have so much to offer on record – crashing waltzes, a tinkling of piano that belongs in the grandest of music boxes, and of course, the juxtaposition of Hamilton Leithauser's strained croon with the quick rumbling of Matt Barrick's drums. They're a band to which, and with which, to fall in love, and were it not for the possibility of being slapped around by fellow concertgoers during a semi-hit like “The Rat,” their live performance would be the perfect setting for a drawn out slow dance to match that between Paul Maroon's Streamliner and Walter Martin's bass. “The Rat” as encore, of course, drew all sorts of sing-along action, and it's a fine song, but it hasn't got the driving aggression and tumbling pace of “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” or the delicate splendor of “The Blizzard of '96.”

It's difficult not to notice the aggressive smile on drummer Barrick, who resembles Seth Meyers when he's grinning and tackling his crash cymbal. Hamilton Leithauser's got the stance of a fighter crying up to the heavens, tightly pursing his lips and only breaking them to spit out his words. It's impossible not to closely watch Maroon, who holds his Gretsch like a guitar instructor, with a grace and coolness held up by steady posture, flawless from his pressed white shirt to his mangled, lumpy shoes. His guitar method – half of what makes this band – is both piercing and elegantly controlled, high on treble and reverb but with a magnificent attention to detail, combining beautifully with the Farfisa.

The group is stylish and dresses elegantly, but it's only when they're up close that you notice those worn shoes, the stain on the corduroy pants, the safety pins holding together a torn blazer sleeve. Leithauser's intensity shone most brightly in the sweat pouring off the backs of his hands, and he guzzled a couple of Amstel Lights until his breath could literally be detected as soon as he bent forward.

As for the musical goods – the new stuff fared fantastically; “Donde Esta La Playa” remained a gloomy dream of a track, “In the New Year” became less beautiful while screamed along to by select ladyfans, and “Postcards From Tiny Islands” sounded a touch off in the timing of Peter Bauer's guitar, though as one of my new Walkmen favorites, it remained nearly as climactic as I'd hoped it would. Perhaps the biggest surprise was “All Hands and the Cook,” with a prominent beat that doesn't show up on A Hundred Miles Off, rebelling against the recorded version which buried its drums under seemingly endless layers of organ and guitar. The Walkmen remain a band of pure magic.

The Walkmen - Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone

The Walkmen - Donde Esta La Playa

Purchase You & Me

Someone at the August 21 Troubadour show was nice and filmed Donde Esta La Playa.

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