Last Night: The Walkmen At House Of Blues’ Pontiac Garage

The Walkmen and The Little Ones House of Blues’ Pontiac Garage October 11, 2008

Better than: hanging out on Greenville Avenue with all the drunken Longhorn and Sooner fans. (By the way: Way to go Longhorns! 45-35!)

Hamilton Leithauser, singer for indie rock darlings The Walkmen, definitely has that frontman flair, that certain glassy eyed, thoughtful manner that gets the girls thinking he’s singing just to them and the guys wishing they could take his place in the spotlight.

During most of his band’s terrific 15-song set, Leithauser remained transfixed at the front of the stage, eyeballing the couple of hundred onlookers as if they were trespassers on some personal fantasy he was having. The Walkmen’s dark and brooding brand of indie rock fit perfectly in the rather small, airless confines of the Pontiac Garage.

Beginning with “On the Water,” a tune from the recently released You & Me, Leithauser and crew created a tactile sense of capture and release. While a song like “New Country” might paint the band into a paranoid corner, a lovely, almost ballad like “Red Moon” showed The Walkmen moving into a grandiose, cinematic style that seemed to fill every corner of the venue.

By the time they made it to “The Rat” (from the band’s best effort Bows + Arrows), the quintet had the crowd locked in on every riff and every word.

It’s a testament to both the band and its audience that music this dense and intricate makes so many physical and emotional connections.

When the band lurched into “Wake Up” (from the band’s 2002 debut), guitarist Paul Maroon and bassist Peter Bauer surveyed the crowd like two giddy schoolboys stumbling upon lost cash. The crowd sang along like each person had some personal connection.

Perhaps they did. Perhaps that’s what makes the music of The Walkmen so moving.

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Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: On record, The Walkmen always sound like they are recording at the bottom of a deep, dark well. The echoes and hisses add an eerie claustrophobic element to the band’s already creepy sound. But live, things are much more expansive--and this helps the band connect with the casual listener in ways I think the albums cannot. This schizophrenia appears part and parcel for a band like The Walkmen.

Random Note: Austin’s Ghostland Observatory was playing the main ballroom of House of Blues last night and that lengthy line of admission was a sight to see. Rarely have so many frat boys and scantily clad, surgically enhanced young females come together in one venue. The collective IQ had to almost reach triple digits. (Several members of The Walkmen left the green room to check out Ghostland’s set only to return to catch the end of the Boston Red Sox/Tampa Rays baseball game. Seems there was a friendly wager placed on the game and singer Hamilton Leithauser was not pleased with the final score.)

By The Way: Although they now hail from New York City, most of the guys in The Walkmen are from Washington D.C. and are quite knowledgeable concerning the capitol city’s legendary punk rock past. Backstage before the show, there was plenty of talk of Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Government Issue and Henry Rollins. Some of The Walkmen’s vintage gear was even purchased from a guitarist with ties to Government Issue. Alas, an attractive groupie from Garland sipped on the free Bud Light and seemed bored with both the baseball talk and the punk rock memories. --Darryl Smyers

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