The Walkmen Fitzgerald's March 3, 2011
Walk yourself on over to our slideshow to see more pics from the concert.
"Play the rock, already!" yelled an impatient spectator toward the empty Fitzgerald's stage. Fans at Thursday's sold-out show (an understatement) were awaiting New York rockers The Walkmen - and impatiently so, evidently.
Touring in support of their sixth album, 2010's Lisbon, The Walkmen took the stage fashionably late and fashionable in general; they looked like well-groomed members of a prep-school elite who just happen to moonlight as gritty garage-rockers.
We spoke with Walkmen organist Walter Martin earlier this week about the resurgence of popularity Lisbon has seemed to bring the band. It's always tough for bands to follow-up on such a strong debut album; The Walkmen's impressive 2002 debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone quickly turned even the most critical indie heads.
Pressures and expectations abounded, but The Walkmen still managed to pull off an equally successful sophomore album with 2004's Bows + Arrows, but they lost some of that newbie momentum in the mid-'00s; it was 2008's You & Me that restored some of the hype that, so far, Lisbon is only reinforcing.
The band took the stage eased and smiling, but was quickly zoned into music-making-mode as the brooding red backlight cast ominous tones on their otherwise dapper white button-downs and khaki suit-coats. Lisbon track "Blue As Your Blood" opened the set, frontman Hamilton Leithauser showcasing his familiar fixed microphone death-grip and hunched stance.
"Thank you for being here with us tonight," he said to the rowdy crowd, before swiftly delving into Lisbon's "Angela Surf City."
While the set drew most liberally from Lisbon, it spanned the band's decade-long history (with the exception of 2006's A Hundred Miles Off, which was noticeably absent from the set list).
You & Me was frequently visited with songs like "On the Water" and "Canadian Girl," during which Leithauser introduced each band member. They even revisited their 2001 self-titled EP with "Summer Stage," a song which best demonstrates Leithauser's vocal ability and distinctively frenetic style - he screams while somehow remaining in key.
It grew clearer as the set progressed that Leithauser largely carries the Walkmen's live performance; he is the consumate front man, 6-foot-something and charming, with lungs that never tire. Though the remainder of the band played their parts without flaw, they offered zero stage presence.
Of course, if there's any band that can pull this off - delivering a solid show while hardly even raising their heads - it would be the Walkmen; they are deliberate minimalists. As arguably best displayed on Lisbon, the band tends to pull back the reins on gratuitous instrumentation and muddied effects and instead focus on stripped, raw recordings. Aside from Leithauser's magnetic stage presence, it seems the same minimalist principle applies to their live shows as well.
Lisbon's "Juveniles" closed the first set, the band knocking back the ends of their beers as they left the stage. The Walkmen pocketed their most lauded singles until the encore's bitter end; heated Bows + Arrows anthem "The Rat" was packed with punch, Leithauser feverishly heaving its every word into the mike.
Dreamy single (turned familiar Saturn Ion soundtrack) "We've Been Had," closed the set, its wistfully jangly piano riff ending the show with a blithe contrast to the band's brooding entrance.
During our interview, Martin recalled the band's last Houston show, during which the crowd danced on the bars "like something out of a movie." While Thursday's crowd refrained from scaling the bars, it was clear Houston still rallies for this band, if based only on fans' unwillingness to leave after the show ended, hovering with hopes of hearing just one more song.
Personal Bias: Not the best Walkmen show I've seen, but you can't beat seeing this band in such an intimate setting as Fitz, however uncomfortably crammed it was.
The Crowd: Lots of tall dudes and bar frequenters.
Overheard In the Crowd: The continual shrill request for "Hang On, Siobhan," often accompanied by choice expletives--courtesy of the same guy, all night long.
Random Notebook Dump: It's always curious to me when non-Southerners adopt the repeated use of "y'all..."
Blue As Your Blood In the New Year Angela Surf City Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone Victory While I Shovel the Snow On the Water Little House of Savages Canadian Girl Summer Stage Woe Is Me Juveniles
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I Lost You The Rat We've Been Had