the walkmen [2012]

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
20 January 2012

Two sets? No opener?

Never seen it before, but Friday night, the first of two sold-out nights at The Independent, The Walkmen did just that. And not only did they make such a feat happen, they managed to sustain an incredible energy throughout both sets.

The Walkmen are in some ways a throw-back band. Their sound is straight-forward guitar-driven blues and garage-tinged rock. Hamilton Leithauser’s voice is nothing less than remarkable, a somehow-perfect combination of classic crooner and Dylan rasp. It does not seem of this time. It is to be celebrated.

Whether winding through the dark and murky “On the Water” (the highlight of the night for me) or pushing full-throttle through “The Rat”, there is always a deep-rooted current of energy just under the music’s surface. And with two trombones and two trumpets (amazing on “Red Moon”) on stage for much of the night, there was no shortage of sound to fill the room and keep the crowd churning.

It was during one of these full-throttle songs early on in the night that I first noticed Parks and Recreation’s own Jean-Ralphio, pressed up against the stage and working some kind of magic. And by working some kind of magic, I mean that this barely 20-something lanky kid with a curly fro, this floppy muppet of a child (part Beeker, part Animal) had the most dramatic arm-flailing, hip-churning, hand-clapping moves I’ve seen in a long time, and yet, was profoundly unable to hit one single beat.

Not a one.

I was convinced that, somehow, out of sheer luck and the mathematics of eventuality, it would happen. And yet, time after time, his wild gesticulations and arms-raised hand claps fell just before or after the beat. The beat, I feel I must stress, of the music being played literally four feet in front of him. Which is why I can only describe it as magic.

But back to the stage. If you have not yet experienced The Walkmen live, you really must. You will be swept up into something simple and beautiful, something larger than yourself, whether you like it or not.

By the end of the night, Leithauser had clearly given all that he could. His brow was soaked. His shirt had completed its transition from a once solid state. There was nothing left. And so he sang a few more.

Discarding the ritual openers and embracing the exhaustiveness of two full sets in one show, The Walkmen demonstrated on this night that rock is far from dead. There is passion left. There is love of song and dance. There is only more to come.