Friday, November 30, 2007

13 November 2007: The Walkmen

13 November 2007
The Walkmen
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: 3 or 4 beers.

I haven't listened to the Walkmen's latest albums—A Hundred Miles Off and the remake of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon's Pussy Cats—so that probably excludes me from claiming that I am a "fan." However, I loved the first two full Walkmen albums and their various EPs, and am particularly fond of the music made by organist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick and guitarist Paul Maroon as Jonathan Fire*Eater. Plus, the Walkmen were the first band I ever interviewed for a feature. Honestly, though, I was most excited to see someone tear up the keys of an upright piano like the one my parents bought used for me when I was 12.

Right, the piano. Just because a band has a piano on stage does not mean it's acceptable to compare them to certain other 21st century bands that use pianos. The piano has been a huge element of the Walkmen's music since long before Coldplay was a household name. Although they sound, at times, like a drunk early-90s U2, the Walkmen avoid coming off as a U2 tribute band through their urban barroom lyrics, piano-hammering compositions, and wailing guitar. However, the newer songs—i.e., the ones I didn't recognize—rely more on guitars and reserve the piano for the background. Still, the pianist impressed me, although I can't figure out if it was Walter Martin on the keys or bassist Pete Bauer since they switched instruments for the last album and I can't tell them apart. Even weirder, frontman Hamilton Leithauser sounds so much like a certain famous singer these days that I heard a guy behind me lean over to his friend and say, "I've always really liked Bob Dylan."

The highlight of the show was "Thinking of a Dream" from Bows + Arrows, which seemed louder than every other song they played (and they're all pretty loud live). Leithauser did not sound like Bob Dylan for this one—he sounded like a great crooner. One track notably missing from the set was "The Rat," the single that has been in movies, on TV shows (most notably The OC), and was even featured in a baseball video game. Then again, I probably wouldn't want to play that track either.

I wasn't expecting the show to be packed, which is foolish since the band has been around since 1999 (when the former Fire*Eater members joined forces with Martin's cousin Leithauser and former Recoys bassist, Peter Bauer). I guess because I'd tuned out for a while I assumed everyone else had too. Silly me: the show was packed. It shows what one viral single can do for—or to—your fan base.

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