story by Tom Smith
The lights dimmed briefly and The Walkmen took the stage with just a wave and nod from singer Hamilton Leithauser. The band leapt into a rousing barn-burner to open the night and bounded from tune to tune last Thursday at Metro like a group of stray cats out on the midnight kill. It was no frills and high fidelity all night. The guitar tone was as crisp and biting as the playing of Paul Maroon, whose guitar laced the languid organ of Pete Bauer elegantly. Walter Martin paved the low-end, bouncing as he railed his P-Bass. The standout performance of the group was the drumming of Matt Barrick. Frenetic to the point of almost coming unhinged, his thunderous floor tom rolls of "Emma Get Me a Lemon" gripped the house, only to relent to the swing of the chorus and consequent swaying of a full club of polite college kids.
They drew half their set from the new record, A Hundred Miles Off, and delighted the crowd with the hits early on. You could almost hear the post-adolescent adoration pop as "Little House Of Savages" gave way to "The Rat." And though I love the hits as much as anyone, the new material was great to hear. Considerably less anthemic and more beefy songs like "Tenleytown" and the airy "Danny's At The Wedding" show the quintet's drive to give themselves creative running room. The result is more fun for everyone, challenging both band and audience instead of relying on the motifs of past successes. The night ended with a three-song encore, culminating with the opening track of the new record, "Louisiana." Maroon traded his axe in for a trumpet, and a dude named Frank dropped some sax. You have to love songs that provide titular lines.
Tonal precision and controlled variables is the name of their game, which might seem unlikely to some when they consider the slacker-rock aesthetic dripping from their three long-players. No footswitches or pedals were visible on stage, vexing my friend Andy as he tried to discern where the mystery delay on the organ was coming from. "It must've been the Wizard of Oz, man, behind that curtain..." The textures were rich, the playing precise and the set was a crowd pleaser. Just another night out for a veteran band who have clearly found their stride.