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The Walkmen
The Basement in Columbus, Ohio
Monday, September 15, 2008

A Subdued Performance for a Subdued City

This past Sunday Hurricane Ike managed to strike my Midwestern home of Ohio. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Eighty mile per hour winds sent trees crashing to the ground all over the state, causing power outages for over one million households. When I woke up Monday and power had yet to be restored, I was a little irritated. When the power company announced that it would be Wednesday before anyone was likely to have power restored, my mood really soured. My demeanor was such that I nearly didn’t attend the Walkmen show at the Basement that night.

Luckily for me, after grilling up some food that would have otherwise gone bad, I spent the evening having conversation over wine and single malt scotch with two good friends and mentors of mine. Believe it or not, I don’t often get to drink twelve year old scotch, and I had such a good evening I decided to try to catch the Walkmen after all. It was already ten pm by the time I left the house and I arrived at the Basement just prior to the main attraction.

Going into this show I didn’t know a whole lot about the Walkmen. I knew, like most people, that they had a very good single called “The Rat” some years ago. I also knew that the band was formed by members of Jonathan Fire*Eater, a largely unknown band hailed by critics for their craftsmanship and for their live show that I had been into briefly in the late ‘90s. Finally, I knew that a very good, trusted friend of mine had seen them out in Los Angeles, and recommended highly for me to go see them.

Looking into their back catalogue, a few things stood out to me. First, vocalist Hamilton Leithauser wails with a fervor you don’t hear too often these days. Second, their drummer, Matt Barrick, is a machine. At the Basement on Monday night only one of the two was evident. To my dismay, the band performed songs almost exclusively from their new album, You & Me. Even though they were touring in support of the new album, this seems a little disappointing coming from a band with five studio releases. As it turns out, the new album is considerably more toned down than some previous efforts, and with the exception of “The Rat,” which was played mid-set; I did not get to see the non-stop assault on the drums I anticipated.

This isn’t to say the show wasn’t good; quite the opposite, in fact. Leithauser did live up to my expectations, and I was sure his voice would give out at any moment. It never did. Bassist Peter Bauer and organist Walter Martin took turns on their respective instruments throughout the night, Leithauser shared picking duties with guitarist Paul Maroon on a few numbers, and extra players were brought out on horns for songs like “Red Moon.” Barrick was always holding the beat steady; he just wasn’t given the proper opportunity to shine.

The material was a little tamer than what I expected, but the performance, although subdued, was lively when it needed to be. Perhaps the band picked up on the mood in Columbus that night and reflected it in their song selection. Whatever the case, the crowd was appreciative, if for no other reason than to be able to escape the doldrums felt throughout the rest of the candlelit city.

By Luke Toney