A tour for an album that hasn't been released comes with risk. But for The Walkmen, who unapologetically avoid playing their most popular songs, it is not a task they shy away from. A packed crowd came out in frigid temperatures to the High Noon Saloon on Saturday night.
Announcing that the New York group was in full support of Green Bay in the NFC Championships, singer Hamilton Leithauser made an unconvincing attempt for the crowd's support. The Packers pandering aside, they pleased the audience with a strong and mostly unfamiliar set.
For the first two songs, Hamilton was in drunken swagger mode, unintelligibly but not unpleasantly on top of the dramatic wave of sound. These songs were characteristic of The Walkmen, and "On the Water" ended with a nice organ moment reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack, courtesy of Walter Morgan on keys. With the third song, Hamilton switched up to mic eating mode by belting, "It's gonna be a good year." Hamilton has garnered a wide range of comparisons, from Dylan to Bono to Jon Bon Jovi. The comparisons have some fleeting validity, but he is his own man, and the band has created an appropriate and unique sound to match.
The set continued, alternating between new material and lesser known cuts from earlier recordings. No "The Rat", "Louisiana", or "Emma, Get Me a Lemon," but they delivered on "Little House of Savages", "What's in It for Me", and "Wake Up."
I have a hard time imagining any band doing a convincing cover of The Walkmen. Fans like the hits, but they also came out for the distinct swirling sonic wall. Whatever crowd-pleasing the band lost in not playing the hits, they made up for in spiritedly producing their distinct sound. The forthcoming album seems like it won't be much of a dramatic departure for the group; the differences will be in the nuances.
Nicely matched with the headliner, both in collared shirts and in piano driven sound, the White Rabbits roused the crowd with their rhythmic body shakers. Steve Patterson's classical flourish on piano preceding "Kid on My Shoulder" demonstrated their high level of proficiency. Also from NYC, the band further displayed their talent throughout the show with instrument sharing and ecstatic three part harmonies. "We Go Dancing" and "The Plot" off of their great 2007 release Fort Nightly were standouts in the quality set.
And how was White Denim? The most talked about Austin band since Voxtrot? The band that put on critically acclaimed sets at last year's SXSW? I and about 50 others have no idea. We watched their entire set from the queue freezing outside through a slight curtain opening into the venue. It's 2008, High Noon Saloon. Can we please get a better system together that wouldn't strand people who bought advance tickets in minus-30 degree wind chills?