The Walkmen - Terminal 5 - 10/18/12
Better Than: Getting older.
There's a huge, pulsing vein on the side of Hamilton Leithauser's neck. Anytime the Walkmen frontman howls, which he did pretty frequently last night at Terminal 5 while headlining one of CMJ's biggest shows, that vein throbs uncontrollably. And as he yelps, he sometimes squeals a bit, too, but in a way that's completely focused and precise, holding the microphone close to his mouth like a freshly picked apple, leaning back, cocking his head at a 45 degree angle, and squeezing out heartbreaking lyrics of love lost and nostalgia.
The Walkmen were born in New York City. Their debut record, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, was recorded in a homemade studio in Harlem back in 2001. That first album, much of which deals with misperceptions and love gone wrong, bleeds Gotham's influence. It, of course, helped define the band's sound: A blend of vintage guitars and the use of an upright piano, all underneath Leithauser's controlled and poignant squawk. But moreover, with songs such as "We've Been Had" that embrace self-aware lyrics and critiques, the band revealed that they weren't just another bunch of rockers trying to drink beer and be young forever, but rather utilized their fears about growing up too fast as a strength. Fans latched on, and the group followed up with Bows + Arrows, the record that gave the world "The Rat," arguably one of the most culturally defining songs of the aughts. Its bridge, "When I used to go out, I would know everyone that I saw / Now I go out alone if I go out at all," became an anthem for young, fresh-faced kids moving to the city with hopes of one day calling themselves real New Yorkers. It's still found played on repeat in bars across the city, and, yes, people do still sing along. The likes of the Killers or the White Stripes may have been playing across the country's rock radio stations, but in a certain sector here, no band was more important than the Walkmen. (At least, that's what people have told me. I lived in Iowa then, and can't report on this trend first hand.)
The Walkmen recognize this, or at least understand the influence this city has had on their careers. Last night between songs, Leithauser said that the show felt like a "real homecoming," even though none of the band members live here anymore. Back in May, in an interview I did with bass and organ player Peter Bauer, he told me New York has "always been our hometown in terms of playing." The fans seem to know it, too. I overheard a couple guys behind me counting the number of times they've seen the Walkmen, and kept losing track. On the way out of the venue, another girl mentioned that every time she's been to a Walkmen concert--"which has been like a million times"--they've never disappointed. "Duh," her friend said in reply. "Why would they?"