Last night was a brisk one in Chicagoland to say the very least. It was one of those nights where a five minute walk seemed like a mile due to the face-numbing, snot-freezing cold and high winds. This however, did not deter the loyal followers of The Walkmen and The French Kicks, who lined up outside the Metro promptly at 8:30. I arrived shortly thereafter, and by the time I got inside, was fitted with an "I'm old enough to drink" wristband and made it upstairs, I had time to catch the last two or three songs from local act, The M's (who have a killer track on the most recent Cornerstone Player and are UNSIGNED).
As the crowd streamed in, The M's treated them to some harmony-driven, earthy pop-rock that much of the concertgoers seemed to be very familiar with already. The hip-factor of said audience was at an all time high for 2004. A month or so of radio support on local specialty shows may have added to this, but there is no question that The French Kicks and The Walkmen have an A+ rating with Chicago hipster community.
The French Kicks began their set with a number of songs from their forthcoming sophomore album, Trial Of The Century, which is out in May. In case you're not a French Kicks scholar, the band began as a four-piece with lead vocalist Nick Stumpf also holding down drumming duties. This proved to be a unique and endearing formula, but alas, it did not last and the band recruited a new drummer so Nick could make the move out front. At a towering 6'5" Stumpf has a commanding presence on stage. Over the past year and a half or so after ditching the drum kit on tour, Stumpf has come into his own as frontman and is clearly comfortable now out front. He uses the entire stage, has some signature dance moves and even has learned a few microphone tricks. As the lovely Christen Thomas pointed out in her write up of one of the band's Mercury Lounge gigs a few weeks ago, Stumpf's t-shirt barely reached the top of his jeans for the duration of the show, exposing his navel and making me wonder if this will become his trademark look (a la Shania Twain).
As I said, the majority of their set were new songs like "Trial Of The Century," "One More Time," and "The Falls," but The French Kicks did dip way back into their arsenal for the crowd favorite "Piano," culled from their very first StarTime release, The Young Lawyer EP. Sadly, my favorite French Kicks song of all time, "When You Heard You," was not performed, but it's great to see this band really taking their music and live show to the next level. They're confident, tight, and ready for the big time.
The Walkmen, formerly labelmates with the French Kicks on the aforementioned Brooklyn-based indie label StarTime International, went on last. Whereas I had seen the French Kicks five or six times prior (hence that scholar comment), this was my first foray into the wild world of The Walkmen. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser wore a t-shirt and sport coat as he grabbed the mic and immediately his intensity radiated across the Metro like an atom bomb. Leithauser performs his vocals with every ounce of his being, making his intriguingly off-kilter melodies come together in a live setting. It was almost as if the singer is at the mercy of his songs, trying merely not to explode as the energy of his vocals escaped his mouth. Jerking violently and screaming wildly, Leithauser writhed and strutted around the stage bearing all the frustration, love and pain of his heart and bringing in the enthusiastic crowd more and more with every verse.
Drummer Matt Barrick was in a similar state of mind. His skill was incredible, but it was his energy that drew my eyes to him repeatedly. From the first song, Barrick violently bounced on his stool and nodded his head with reckless abandon. Having just seen Hidalgo, it made me think that this kid could have easily taken a wild mustang across the Arabian desert without even the slightest saddle burn.
The Walkmen pulled their set in equal parts from their latest effort, Bows & Arrows, and their debut album, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone. The crowd got a kick out of "We've Been Had," which you may have heard in a car commercial last year, but the highlight for me was "The Rat." The song is just so fucking good and it sounded great live. I was thoroughly impressed.
Thankfully, I live across the street from the venue, or I would write another paragraph bitching about the cold. Instead, I'll just say that it sucks when you're trying to quit smoking and everyone around you is lighting up and the venue is completely packed with a dense fog of cigarette smoke and when you get home your clothes smell like shit but you haven't even gotten a nicotine fix andÖ well you get the idea. Cheers.