Friday night before New York’s The Walkmen hit the stage I made a list of ten songs I wished to hear. These ranged from their entire catalogue (save for their remake of the Harry Nilsson album Pussy Cats), with nearly two songs from each album, though I tended to stick with songs off their first album Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone; it being my personal favorite and all. 60% of my wishes came true.
As they took the stage, The Walkmen set things off with four songs in quick succession, off of their most recent release You & Me, which harkens back to the good ol' days of The Walkmen of yore. Dreamy twinkling guitars, delicate and booming drum fills, more singing and yearning rather than screaming and lamenting. Hamilton Leithauser (best name for a front man ever) stood tall and proper center stage, belting into the mic he gripped so firmly. Two of the songs I was hoping to hear “On the Water” and “Canadian Girl” were amongst them. I was a little sad to hear them so early on in the set, as I was hoping to get a good choked up moment for the encore. I was fascinated and impressed with the dexterity of drummer Matt Barrick, who played the floor tom with a maraca for a spell then deftly flipped it in the air, using the handle as a drum stick. That little man is mean on the drums, he’s quite a spectacle to watch.
After this batch of new songs they went back and forth between Bows + Arrows, A Hundred Miles Off and You & Me. It was between “Wake Up” and “Long Time Ahead of Us” that Leithauser reached for his glass of whiskey and took a few sips, which made me think they were clearly going to play “All Hands on the Cook” and “The Rat” soon, which require quite a bit of throaty scream singing.
At this point I looked down to the audience and noticed that hardly anyone was responsive to this show. This was disappointing to me. Sure I don’t expect everyone to get AS excited as I did, but the fact that when they played “The Rat,” clearly the most recognizable track in The Walkmen’s catalogue, only a couple of handfuls of fans were moving about or even swaying saddened me a bit (I did spot a co-worker of mine singing along which put a smile on my face). Were people unimpressed with the performance? I wouldn’t be able to understand that if that were the case as they played tightly, surrounding us all with the beautiful tones emanating from their vintage guitars and the upright organ.
As they closed their set, I thought about how perfect it was that it had been raining most of the day, and how the sound of the piano in most of the songs seemed to echo the raindrops outside. All of the fellows in this band are extremely talented and the music they generate has a unique melancholia to it. The Walkmen are one of those bands that seem to be generally under-appreciated, but at the close of the night I was brimming with appreciation and longing for more beauty.