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The Walkmen

Tuesday, June 20, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551

According to Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, the band's last visit to Houston turned out "pretty horrible."

The Walkmen hit town the same day as Hurricane Rita and spent 30 hours in a traffic jam on the way to their next gig in Austin. The trip might have made the band curse Houston, but Leithauser says it probably earned the city a few chapters in the band's fictionalized tour diary, John's Journey.

The book is one of three projects the Walkmen are scheduled to release in 2006. The A Hundred Miles OffCD hit stores last month, and the band is planning to release a remake of the John Lennon/Harry Nilsson cult favorite Pussy Cats in the fall.

It's not surprising that, in a recent phone interview, Leithauser said he thinks the Walkmen's latest is also their greatest album yet. Most critics, myself included, would disagree.

The problem may just be in the sequencing. Past albums have hidden stellar singles between less accessible tracks, making for an often uneven, but always interesting, listen. The amazing Bows + Arrows used the strategy especially effectively, shuffling slower droners with rockers like "The Rat" and "House of Little Savages." A Hundred Miles Offtakes a different approach, setting the album's two most obvious singles, the Dylan-via-Kinks "Louisiana" and the Maziran cover "Another One Goes By," at the front and end of the album, leaving a soft ten-song center. The singles-sandwich sequencing approach works on albums like the Stones' Let It Bleed, in which the bookend songs are brilliant and the rest of the album fills the space like a tasty cream-filled center. Unfortunately, listening to A Hundred Miles Off is more like eating a Twinkie filled with air. By the time the opening chords for "Another One Goes By" come through your speakers, you may have forgotten you've been listening to music, making the song's title an ironically apt description of the album.

Even Leithauser admits the potential singles felt different when the band recorded them. But he said the more forgettable tracks may take on more substance live, after the band has had time to discover the best way to perform them.

"We write our songs and record them immediately," he says. "When we take the song out and it gets road-tested, it changes a lot."

Sometimes the band grows to hate some of its songs and eventually even drops them from the set list. "I wish I could say they always got better," he says. "But sometimes you get tired of a song and you can't even remember why you liked it in the first place."

Whatever most Walkmen fans think of the latest album, they will probably be leaving Numbers this Tuesday reminded of just why they like the band.

As for hurricanes, Leithauser says he wants to avoid the subject entirely. Though he'd like any New Orleans evacuees in the audience to remember the album's first single, "Louisiana," was written before Katrina, he says he probably won't say anything about the hurricane.

"That's something I'd just rather us not be associated with," he says. "I think I'm probably just not going to talk about it."

And since he spent 30 hours on Texas 71 in September, who could blame him?

 
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