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Live Review: The Walkmen at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom (6/6)

on June 07, 2012, 2:23pm

Nine songs into The Walkmen’s triumphant homecoming gig at New York’s Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday night, reticent frontman Hamilton Leithauser addressed the crowd directly for the first time. “It’s great to be back in New York,” the singer declared, inciting cheers. “This very much feels like a hometown gig for us.” And then, as if reassured by the crowd’s locality familiarity and warmth, the band launched into the opening piano tinkles of “Hang On, Siobhan”, followed by 2002’s “The Blizzard of ’96”. It’s a far cry from the measured, adulthood-themed collection that is Heaven. But if any town can handle a transmission from the band’s brash, messier beginnings, it’s New York.

“Hang On” was the first pre-You & Me selection of the night—an appropriately hushed introduction to decadent 2004 masterpiece Bows + Arrows—but it would not be the last. Throughout an expansive, career-spanning two-part set, the quintet highlighted gems from their past (“The Rat”, “What’s In It For Me”, “We’ve Been Had”, and others) while emphasizing more recent releases. And the band demonstrated gracefully that after 12 years, six studio albums, and near ceaseless touring, The Walkmen have finally arrived as a band whose shows can be readily described with terms like “expansive” and “career-spanning.”

thewalkmen2012schonfeld 11 Live Review: The Walkmen at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom (6/6)The band drew less than a quarter of its two-hour set from Heaven, performing six of its 13 tracks and still pleasing fans disappointed by the mellower, parent-friendly terrain. Despite opening with doo-wop crooner “We Can’t Be Beat”, Leithauser and co. favored the record’s upbeat mid-tempo anthems over its hit-or-miss folk excursions. Early in the show came the title track, its driving rhythm and anthemic chorus (“Remember, remember/ All we fight for!”) an immediate crowd-pleaser. Power-pop number “Love Is Luck” and the bluesy “The Witch” garnered similar cheers. Sparser numbers, like the eerie “Southern Heart” and old-timey duet “No One Ever Sleep”, which features Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, were, perhaps wisely, left behind. “Heartbreaker”, a Motown-inspired rocker, made a thrilling set closer before the final encore.

The New York quintet was more comfortable wringing artful, complex arrangements and deep drama from 2008’s You & Me and 2009’s Lisbon. (If there are any doubts that You & Me is one of the band’s most rewarding releases, let them be put to rest in the live department.) On the gorgeous “Red Moon” and wistful “Stranded,” Leithauser was joined by a five-piece horn section that included wife Anna Stumpf (and which later returned to the stage for a final encore on “Canadian Girl”). On full-bodied rockers “In The New Year” and “Four Provinces”, the singer howled out the high parts, clutching the mic stand like it was 2003, while multi-instrumentalist Walter Martin shifted from bass to organ to maracas with masterful precision.

The band culled from its back catalogue much more liberally during the latter set. When the members finally roared out the opening chords of “The Rat”, it felt like one excellent track out of dozens—not a “trademark” anthem or needed hit song. As the AV Club’s Steven Hyden noted, “it’s been years since The Walkmen conjured the piss and vinegar of ‘The Rat'”. They can still conjure it live. But in New York last night, it was one of many chapters in the band’s now extensive career. So goes the transformation from brassy NYC arrivals to elegant rock veterans.

Setlist:
Set 1:
We Can’t Be Beat
Heaven
Blue As Your Blood
Juveniles
In The New Year
Red Moon
Stranded
Love Is Luck
The Love You Love
Angela Surf City
Hang On, Siobhan
The Blizzard of ‘96
All Hands and the Cook
Woe Is Me
I Lost You
Set 2:
Line By Line
Thinking of a Dream I Had
The Witch
Louisiana
Four Provinces
On The Water
What’s In It For Me
The Rat
We’ve Been Had
Heartbreaker
Encore:
Canadian Girl

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Charles C.
June 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Removed