Despite my bed-ridden status most of Saturday, I was geared up to see the Ambulance Ltd/Walkmen show in the intimate setting of Schubas that night. The bar was closed except for show patrons, so there was room to spread out in the music room and the bar, though I was right up front to catch these two great bands.
Schubas was packed when Ambulance was about to get on stage around 11. Frontman Marcus Congleton began with an apology for not getting to Chicago enough and although they seem like one of the hardest working bands in show business right now, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have a distinct sound that doesn’t adhere to one genre, ranging from pure pop to lilting instrumentals to a little country twang, and their shows are consistently top-notch.
They started off the show with an instrumental jam, followed by an almost song-for-song match with their 2004 self-titled LP with “Primitive (The Way I Treat You)”, “Anecdote”, “Heavy Lifting” and “Ophelia” interspersed with two new songs—one slow and one fast. They ended the set with the scratchy distortion laden “Sugar Pill” and the rollicking barroom favorite “Neil Young”. Congleton’s face poured with sweat, his hair stuck to his face incessantly, and his jeans were in perpetual need of a good tug, but he gave a stand-up performance. Benji Lysaght graced a few songs with the lap steel, which he ended up knocking off the stand in a fit of rock toward the end of the set. Bassist Matt Dublin and drummer Darren Beckett were so in tune with each other musically and mentally and made the songs flow with such ease that the two men seemed to be thinking with one musical brain. From the crowd’s reaction, Chicago fans will be eagerly waiting their return.
The majority of the crowd was clearly there to see The Walkmen, though I think many of them will be hitting up Insound today for the Ambulance disc. When The Walkmen came on around 12:15, the temperature had definitely gone up along with the energy level, which The Walkmen matched with vein-bulging intensity. They came right out with crowd favorite “The Rat” as their second song. It drove everyone wild as Hamilton Leithauser nearly fell off the stage and took the monitor amp right off with him as well. I was standing with arms poised to catch his huge frame (or quickly jump out of the way), but luckily he regained balance to deliver a pulsating start to a noteworthy show. Drummer Matt Barrick held nothing back, while keyboardist/lap-steel aficionado Walter Martin was a picture of cool concentration amidst the fanatic energy this band exudes during their performances.
Hopefully Seth Cohen’s admiration will do for Ambulance Ltd. what he did for The Walkmen on The OC, but clearly both of these bands can hold their own. Each have original ideas paired with boundless energy and a solid fan base, which leads me to believe we will see much more from each. Thanks to both for playing such a small but important venue to Chicago music fans.
Source: Leslie Derr