The Walkmen at First Avenue, 6/30/12

The Walkmen at First Avenue, 6/30/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

See Also:
Slideshow: The Walkmen at First Avenue

The Walkmen
With Young Man
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, June 30, 2012

Usually, a heralded indie rock act decays, disappears, or revamps over a decade, but the five East Coast-bred gents in the Walkmen have simply grown up before our eyes. No longer do the suit coats and collared shirts seem to be just stage garb, and wedding rings glinted tellingly off several left hands onstage during the early Saturday evening spectacle at First Avenue. These are businessmen dressed for work, and the Walkmen in 2012 are a booming venture.

Tall and generally gruff singer Hamilton Leithauser dispensed with lengthy speeches, and kept his support in step to punch in 18 songs before the stroke of 10 p.m. With a briefcase overflowing with material from Heaven, their seventh album, this is a slight improvement from the mature posturing of 2010's Lisbon. What they may have lost in a horn section from tours past -- which meant "Louisiana" was not in the mix -- was made up for in abundant energy from "The Witch" and "Heartbreaker" that left Leithauser's white shirt soaked and methodical rhythm guitarist/keyboardist/bassist/tambourine/backing vocalist Peter Bauer with sweat dripping from strands of hair slapping his forehead.

The Walkmen at First Avenue, 6/30/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Leithauser brandishes one of rock's arresting voices -- volume and sky-scraping pitches are approach near-Bono levels without ever settling for cloying moments. His ever-changing posture, squeezed-shut eyes, and bunches of microphone cord in a clenched fist made it impossible not to hone in on how much intensity or restraint he can manage for each song. "In the New Year," a barnstorming melody from 2008's essential You & Me, conjures the chill of mid-winter moment on record. But in the warm club with spotlights cutting the air, it melted everything.

Bauer and (mostly bassist these days) Walter Martin stepped up to back Leithauser vocally on "We Can't Be Beat." This luxurious Heaven moment moved drummer Matt Barrick (a dead-ringer for Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine) away from searing the kit to tapping a triangle, and shows an impressive amount of restraint from the guys who built their career on a wealth of angular angst in the mid-aughts with Paul Maroon's brilliant tone and speed on lead guitar for "The Rat." (Leithauser introduced that one as "one from the old days," incidentally.)

The Walkmen at First Avenue, 6/30/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Proving most of all that the guys still have the drive of old was "All Hands and the Cook" from the under-appreciated A Hundred Miles Off. This slow-building, stripped rendition was bone-chilling, and only approached the full album arrangement near its midway point. Like drunken squabblers from a John Cheever story, there are a series of timeless potshots thrown back and forth, culminating with "If you don't like it, won't you tell me!" Leithauser spit his heart out onto the stage while delivering his lines pitch-perfect, and magically had something left for an encore. 

The Walkmen at First Avenue, 6/30/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Young Man were a passionate start to the evening. St. Paul native Colin Caulfield's band may sound overly restrained -- a trippier Vampire Weekend, perchance -- but the live entries proved looser, stranger, and far louder. Though it's Caulfield's band, and he certainly can move well with a guitar, drummer Dylan Andrews won the stage with an array of innovative and entrancing fills. For the many acts who seem to be trending towards multiple drummers: Just hire one person who displays a jazz virtuosity mixed with punk fury, and let him be. 

Personal Bias: The Walkmen have an open invitation to perform at any family functions -- weddings, graduations, funerals, etc. -- that occur over the course of the rest of my life.

The Crowd: Loud, lusty and passionate. Eyeglasses were plentiful.

Random Detail: Watching Peter Bauer pounding on a duct-tape covered organ set up on two stools was disarming at times, but despite ample wobbling, it never fell.


Line by Line
The Love You Love
In the New Year
138th Street
Blue as Your Blood
Love is Luck
Angela Surf City
Woe is Me
The Witch
We Can't Be Beat
All Hands and the Cook

Four Provinces
The Rat
Canadian Girl

See Also:
Slideshow: The Walkmen at First Avenue

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