All words: Travis Andrews — All photos: Ryan Kelly
“Three shots fired to call us back,” Hamilton Leithauser screams with the screeching of metal gears grinding against each other, some high metallic sound, as he arches his back and hangs there, like a bending tree in the moonlight. We don’t know who is calling them back. We don’t fucking want to know. Because it clearly is nothing good. But then, what in Walkmen songs ever is?
Nowadays, a whole lot, actually. Between songs like “All Hands and the Cook,” the aforementioned song in which Leithauser takes razor blades to his vocal cords (note: he drinks one glass of water throughout this) and “The Rat,” in which he spits vitriol at someone who has the nerve to still be calling, he’s singing lovey-dovey songs to his daughter and talking about Heaven. Of course, even when he sings about his heavenly happiness, he’s well aware that it could slip away at any moment. “Remember, remember, all that we fight for,” he sings (note: sings, not screams), as his brilliant band plays perfectly.
The Walkmen are one of those rare bands that never compromised, never took advantage of their hit sing (see: “The Rat”). Instead, they always did exactly what they wanted. At times this meant recreating, track for track, Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s Pussy Cats. At times, this meant abandoning the loud, screaming rock music that showcased their anxieties for an album about … being happy. But never once did these steps seem like missteps.
The band’s older now. Promo shots for the new album shows all the members with their kids. They’ve done it. Seven years of holidays are over, and these wild nights don’t have to not be fun. They don’t exist. He never left her, no matter how hard he tried. They found their peace. Which is all anyone in this band ever seemed to want.
So it’s nice to know they can still access that anxiety, even if they aren’t writing about it. The band went through songs from ever album it ever released, from crowd favorites like “The Rat,” “All Hands and the Cook” and closer “We’ve Been Hand” to stripped down versions of “138th Street” and “Four Provinces.” To say this is a fan’s show is an understatement. This is a band that never left the fans, never thought about it. And this band has sounded better with ever record.
Live too. I first saw them in college, by random chance. College was in Baton Rouge, and my friend dragged me to a show by some band he liked. I had heard “The Rat.” I thought the drummer was cool. There were 12 people at the show, and I sat mesmerized. I bought Bows + Arrows that night, and a month later happened to catch The Walkmen opening for Modest Mouse. Again, amazed. Now, seeing them pack the 9:30 Club two nights in a row. Well, it feels like they’ve grown up.
Growing up can suck. That’s what we’re supposed to think. But just as Leithuaser sings before he, dressed in a well-tailored black suit with a skinny tie — the picture of leisurely fashion, jumps off stage and saunters through the crowd, shaking hands with his fans before disappearing into the night, just as he sings, “Sometimes, I’m just happy I’m older.”
And, for once, nobody’s disagreeing.
- The War on Drugs: