Over The Weekend: The Walkmen at Granada Theater

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The Walkmen, The Head and The Heart, Seryn

Saturday, March 5, 2011
Granada Theater

Better than: sitting at home listening to great vintage records.

Looking at the members of The Walkmen during their performance at Granada Theater on Saturday night, they hardly looked like a rock 'n' roll band. Far from it, actually. Try down-on-their-luck traveling salesmen, or old-time revivalist preachers. Case in point: Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser's slightly wrinkled tan suit and tie. It wasn't the stuff of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. It was the uniform of a worn out, underpaid nine-to-fiver.

The instruments were the band's only giveaway -- and even those looked like they were picked from a heap at a junk yard. Matt Barrick's drumset looked like it could fall apart at any second, and Walt Martin's bass was mostly rubbed down to the wood grain.

But that's all part of The Walkmen's aesthetic these days -- timeless and worn like a good record your parents used to listen to. 

The first song of the night, "Blue As Your Blood," from their new record Lisbon, matched the band's vintage appearance. The slap-back plucked strings of the electric guitar nearly channeled Johnny Cash, but Leithauser's croon and the sound of a churning organ steered the song in a much darker direction.

That wasn't to be the tone of the night, though. The next song, "In The New Year," shot a bolt of energy through the audience, which tried to sing along with Leithauser as he belted out the choruses. He aimed his voice even higher during Lisbon's "Angela Surf City." This kind of near-shouting -- at the top of his register, no less -- has been a staple of The Walkmen's live performances since the band's inception 10 years ago. But, in recent years, he has toned it down a bit.

That much was true on "While I Shovel The Snow," an empty, slow number, which required the accompaniment of not one, but two triangles. The loose rhythm of the song's performance and the slightly out of sync triangle taps made the snow in the song seem like it could be real just outside the Granada's walls.

Later in the set, though, the band warmed up on the classic "We've Been Had" from their debut album Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone. The song, played at a slightly slower meter than the recording, felt like a ramshackle number in an old west saloon. And on the final bars of the song, the band finally reached a perfect connection among themselves and the audience. Then they ended the set with a rousing performance of "Juveniles" from Lisbon.

After a brief intermission, the band came back out and predictably launched into their biggest hit, and one of the best rock songs of the last decade, with "The Rat." Leithauser staggered around the stage like a boxer in the 15th round, as he screamed each lyric and the audience sang along. The band then immediately followed that song with the high energy "Thinking Of A Dream I Had," and closed the set softly with "Hang On, Siobhan" -- all three songs coming from their 2004 album, Bows + Arrows.

Fom start to finish, The Walkmen's set became more and more engaging. Despite the fact that they've played many of these songs a thousand times, there was something fresh and exciting happening between these five members. Yup, when these guys get together and dust off their instruments, their connection is unparalleled in rock music today.

They proved that on Saturday night at the Granada -- just as they consistently have over the last decade.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: So I'm a Walkmen superfan. What of it? 

By The Way: I missed the sets of opening acts Seryn and The Head & The Heart, but the buzz around the Granada was that Seryn played one of their best sets ever.

Random Note: The Twitter feed on the Granada's video screens in between sets is definitely a funny addition to the concert going experience. It offers instant reviews, and if your band plays a crappy set, it's going up there. I'm looking at you, The Head & The Heart.

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