The Walkmen

Sogo Live(Baton Rouge)

September 21, 2005

There is no direction. There is no end.

Twiropa sustained heavy wind damage during Hurricane Katrina. Unsubstantiated talk is that the Live Room's roof is gone. So, not to kick 'em when they're down, but The Walkmen had some crappy sound when they played in the Tchops Room a few months ago. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser was pretty upset, and The Walkmen seemed to turn in a shitty performance because of it. It's not the strongest deduction, but the sound was so much better at Sogo Live Wednesday night, and so was the band. Coincidence? After their Twiropa performance I wondered what the fuss about The Walkmen was. Now it's obvious. They're one of the futures of urban rock music.

NYC's The Walkmen, five major label dudes two albums and five years in, played romantic, bittersweet, and aggressive music in Baton Rouge. It was nihilistic and ambivalent dance. Leithauser's voice sounds like The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, but The Walkmen have so many forefathers that it's really no use trying to figure them all out. Late '70's CBGB scene. The Pixies are worth mentioning because they were obvious art-rock influences. The Walkmen don't sound like The Pixies as much as their sensibility is borrowed from them.

Leithauser's voice was just as important as the instrumental work. His swagger and passion were worth the price of admission. The concert was no recreation of an album. Leithauser hunched over and screamed his face red. He complained of a cold. If that's what he sounds like at 75%, I'd like to see him at 100%. Leithauser's scratchy and tortured voice emoted ennui, exaltation, exhaustion, vitriol, and existentialist dread. He talked of fast cars. The songs were confusing but beautiful when his voice floated above the rest of the music, detached. It was concrete when the rest of the music was flimsy, watery, and nerfy.

"What's in It For Me" used a tribal beat and shimmering guitars covered by sustained organ notes. Resigned annoyance and sadness ruled. "The Rat" was lightspeed guitars with disco drums on cocaine. It was the raped throats of punk mixed with the shaking legs of new wave. Leithauser spit indignation and anger, daring the audience to get involved. The crowd, judging by the applause, was enjoying the music, but nobody let themselves go and dance crazy the way the music pointed towards until later. The music changed so much song to song. Who knew what was next?

Some of the songs had a definite structure laid out by a solid beat. Other songs, like "138th Street," were bereft of a snare anchor. Instead they contained rumbling toms, illuminated, hopeful guitars, and churchy organ sounds.

Shaking new wave legs, waiting. But, ready to wait all night, confident the band will deliver more overpowering moments. Eventually, The Walkmen got the uptight indie crowd to dance. Beat a soul out of them little by little. Quality song after quality song, until the body doesn't listen to the mind so much.

There is no direction. There is no end.


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