Tag Archives: The Walkmen

LIVE: Hamilton Leithauser, Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

So here we are, The Walkmen, one of biggest deals of the past fifteen years of indie rock, seem to basically have called it quits with an “extreme hiatus.” Three of the band’s members are putting out solo material sometime soon, but there’s only one anyone is likely to care much about— that would be frontman Hamilton Leithauser. Leithauser’s nasal yawping was probably The Walkmen’s most defining characteristic. His furious shouting on early records (see: “The Rat”) gave way to a much more gentle, melodic croon over the course of the band’s six records, culminating in Heaven, the band’s ostensible final album, which was downright lush in a way no one would have expected back when Bows + Arrows came out (see: “We Can’t Be Beat”). Now Leithauser is on the verge of releasing his first solo album, Black Hours, next month, and he brought his band to town to air out some of these songs. Leithauser’s popping neck veins as he strains his voice have always been the most talked ­about element of Walkmen shows, so this was reason enough to try and catch him “solo.”

I was really glad to find that the show had been moved from the El Rey, probably my least favorite venue in Los Angeles, to the Hotel Cafe after the album’s release date got pushed back by a month. Hotel Cafe is an intimate venue trying for an East­-Village-­in­the­-Sixties feel, and mostly succeeding (if Inside Llewyn Davis is anything to judge by). The first ten feet out from the tiny stage are occupied by tables, the lighting set to “lounge.”

The less said about opener Alternate Routes, the better. Two dudes with two acoustic guitars and one porkpie hat, singing lines like “She was my stereo/I got lost in the audio” and “She didn’t get her momma’s hips/So she took her momma’s lipstick,” their spokesman/frontman spending more time talking about how he “tries to turn long run­-on sentences into poetry” and “hopes he pulled it off this time” than actually playing his unbelievably mediocre adult-­contemporary ballads. The most direct thing I can say about this band is that they apparently spent the last three weeks touring as part of Ingrid Michaelson’s band (no announcement has ever made more sense). Or, as my Concert­ Going Companion put it, “This is the music that rolls over the credits of bad romantic comedies.”

When Hamilton Leithauser and friends took the stage, I was worried they wouldn’t quite fit. Along with his core band, he brought with him a full five-­piece string section. The violist did actually sort of have to hang out in the wings, and bassist Kevin Baker spent much of the set sitting atop his amp. The rest of the band was culled from the impressive supporting cast Leithauser had when making the record—including Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, The Shins’ Richard Swift, and former-­Blood-­Brother/erstwhile­-Fleet-­Fox (WTF, right?) Morgan Henderson. Present last night were The Walkmen’s own Paul Maroon on guitar and piano, former French Kick Nick Stumpf on drums, and Stumpf’s sister Anna on backing vocals and piano.

(A word or two­ hundred about French Kicks—throughout high school, I was ridiculed for constantly asserting that French Kicks were a better band than The Walkmen. The two were compared constantly, not only because they were friends from school, but because they sounded quite similar. The Kicks got accused at every turn of “ripping off” their younger brothers, despite the fact that the two bands only sounded alike in the sense that two bands who come up together in the same scene probably will. I preferred the Kicks because the velvety croons of Stumpf and Josh Wise seemed like better singing than Leithauser’s adenoidal squawking. In retrospect, the two bands are hardly comparable, nor are their singing styles, but I still like the Kicks’ apparent swan song Swimming far better than any single Walkmen album. In any case, it was lovely to hear the equally­ super­tall Stumpf and Leithauser sing together last night, their voices work incredibly well together, and it was probably the closest I’ll ever get to a French Kicks show.)

Leithauser spent the evening in seemingly good spirits, joking often about his mopey recording personality, (“This one is called ‘Self Pity.’ This is the one where we all just wallow in it.” “Anna’s gonna help me sing this one about our marriage [fictional], it’s called ‘I Will Never Love Again.”) When not playing guitar, he maintained his signature onstage pose, towering above everyone with one hand in his pocket, the other on the mic, head angled upwards. I finally understood why Leithauser’s neck veins bulge so much when he sings—the guy has a baritone speaking voice, and should probably spend more time in that range if he wants to keep singing for much longer.

Anyone would be forgiven for mistaking most of these songs for Walkmen songs—on top of Leithauser’s inimitable pipes, Maroon’s signature jangle has been a hallmark of just about every Walkmen track ever, and it’s all over these songs. That said, he did get the chance to break out of the rigid Walkmen structure a few times, like with his actually really tasty wah-­wah solos on highlight “I Don’t Need Anyone.” Stumpf got to really wail, too, on rocker “I Will Never Love Again,” but a lot of these songs really could’ve used the nervy drumming of The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick. (Then again, so could most Walkmen songs.) “11 O’Clock Friday Night” made for a great time early in the set, standing out from the rest of the Walkmen­-esque set by virtue of Maroon’s xylophone. But several songs harkened back to the mediocre Americana-­isms of Walkmen mis­step A Hundred Miles Off, a much less exciting touchstone, than, say, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone.

While we weren’t treated to any actual Walkmen songs, I didn’t feel cheated. It wouldn’t have been fair to expect this from Leithauser (or Maroon, for that matter)—they’ve earned the right to do other things. I just wish they’d branch out even more.

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REVIEW: Pissed Jeans – Honeys

Making adult music for adult people can be a difficult thing. I, personally, adore two of the best bands doing it, The National and The Walkmen, and yet I completely understand those who don’t like it. Those two bands (The National especially) are bands for middle-class boredom, in which you have sex with people who you don’t love, drink too much wine, pretend to laugh at the jokes of people you hate, and sleep at night by taking one too many sleeping pills. There’s beauty in that. “With my kid on my shoulder I try / not to hurt anybody I like / But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out,” Matt Berninger sang on “Afraid of Everyone,” on the last National album, High Violet. The sentiment is something that is relatable, but it’s hard to really understand for a lot of people.

Where are the working class anthems for the worst parts of adulthood? My favorite of them is “The Jogger,” a tone poem of sorts off Pissed Jeans’ second LP, Hope For Men. “Promenade / The jogger / Piece of cake / Racquetball / Hiking trip / The jogger / Whole Foods / Matching outfit / Ford Explorer / The jogger.” The moment I heard that song, I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I think, when you read it, you do too. It’s a grimy, filthy, human version of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier,” behind a wall of Melvins-esque noise. Hope For Men was an album for adults like Jason Bateman’s character in Juno, who’s wife used his old Soundgarden shirt as a grungy shirt to paint in, who’s had to sell out and get a real job to make a go at a “real life.” Pissed Jeans are by no means a success story: four albums and 9 years in, frontman Matt Korvette still works as an insurance claims adjuster, trying to hide his other life from his coworkers, he said in a recent interview. One might take an issue with that fact, but the way I see it, they’re a band that thrives due to its connection to banal minutiae.

Four albums in, Pissed Jeans have done little to change their sound. They have, however, honed their craft in a really interesting way. Where Shallow was a bit of a sloppy, cacophonous mess, the band has steadily refined their messiness, to the point where that clutter is nearly collected into easy-to-navigate piles. Listening to Honeys makes you feel like the last 15 years never happened, and that the grunge movement is alive and screaming, even if it has seen its hairline recede a little bit. Korvette is only 30, but it’s clear that he’s got a firm grip on the issues with growing up and being forced into growing up. Through all the fuzz, it’s hard to pick out everything, but key phrases and themes (such as that of Fight Club style fantasy murder) that present themselves for digestion. There’s a line, about halfway through the album on “Cafeteria Food”, that sums a lot of things up: “Hey there project manager / I saw you eating cafeteria food / I know that seems like like a healthy choice / I argue that isn’t true.” The song itself is a lumbering mass of bass fuzz, and it does nothing but enhance the bile in his words: “You think you’ve got it all figured out, except where to send your kids to school.” There’s a Bukowski lite tone to his anger on the song, and the album in general, where each bitter line is a mix of pity and jealousy, even if it can’t ever decide which it wears better.

Pissed Jeans are a bitter pill to swallow. Even when you enjoy their music and what they’re saying, like the anti-misogynist screed “Male Gaze,” it’s hard to really connect with the music in a meaningful way. You shouldn’t take this as me detracting from the raw power of the band, and how truly awesome Honeys is. They fill a very specific gap that has been missing in music, and even as a sweatervest wearing dad, I click a lot with the visceral imagery and energy of the band’s drunken, angular wailing. You have to come at the band with the right angle, or else you’re just going to view them as a bunch of meatheads wailing on their instruments for no good reason. If you’re willing to let them into your heart, Pissed Jeans are going to fill the same hole that they fill in mine, and you’re going to find yourself trying to figure out just how to tell people about them. If you don’t understand their music – and I’m sure a lot of you will find yourself in that position – I would suggest listening to Slings + Arrows again, and going back to your desk.

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LIVE REVIEW: The Walkmen w/ Father John Misty

Journalism is the best when you get to spend three hours watching incredible bands play. One of the best examples of this is last night’s exquisite performances by adult-type-rock-band The Walkmen, supported by the incredible folk pop stylings of Father John Misty. This lineup was a match made in indie rock heaven, and it would have been a crime to sit it out.

Luckily, I didn’t do that. Up first was Father John Misty, fronted by J. Tillman, easily one of the most charismatic musicians I’ve seen in a good while, outside of the usual roster of seasoned veterans. He swayed his hips and danced around with the best, wailing almost every single cut from last year’s fantastic record Fear Fun, plus one brand new song, “Because I’m gettin’ pretty tired of singing the same 10 songs every night, over and over.” Throughout the show, he introduced the band, saying, “We’re Eve 6… it’s really good to be back!”, screamed about the lack of vegan donuts in Portland (spoiler for non-locals: it’s kind of our thing), and playfully bemoaned the fact that everyone was there to see The Walkmen (this isn’t true at all). During a raucous performance of “Well, You Can Do It Without Me,” Tillman dropped to his knees, screaming at his band, “I’M FINE! GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME! I CAN GET BACK UP ON MY OWN! I DON’T NEED YOUR FUCKING HELP!” before getting up and finishing the song. It was magical. The band blazed through the songs at a breakneck pace, and to be honest, I would have been happier with an extra half-hour (at least), on top of their 45-minutes on stage. Highlight: the freakout set closer “Forever Hollywood Cemetery Sings,” where the band roared on while Tillman swung his mic stand around, wrapping the cord around his neck. I was sure he was going to hit something with the thing, but he never did.

Father John Misty would be a really tough act to follow, but The Walkmen are a great band to do that job. It is spiritually perfect that the first time I saw The Walkmen, it was in support of The National, easily the only band which they can be compared to. They are on the very short list of adult bands making music for mature adults, which is an incredible premium these days. It speaks volumes about a band with enough incredible material that a song like “The Rat,” an easy lock for a set closer, was actually the third song performed. Throughout their hour-and-change, Hamilton Leithauser crooned his heart out, occasionally stalking around the stage. He picked up his guitar for around half the set, adding some incredible layers to Lisbon standout (and possibly my personal favorite Walkmen track) “Blue As Your Blood,” a song which I, personally, could not resist drumming my hands on a house monitor to. My knowledge of the band is paltry at best, but it didn’t affect how magical it is to see this band play live. Leithauser is a frontman for every thirtysomething that got to that age and realized that they couldn’t relate to their former heroes, because he is a hero to everyone who relates all too much to the band’s lyrics. And, considering the rapturous love expressed by that room, it feels like they’re finally getting the love they need, 10 years into their career.

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