The Walkmen — that prim and proper five-piece from New York — doesn’t exude the strife of a yet-to-fully-break indie rock band.
They wear semi-matching Oxford shirts and shiny loafers. They each carry a cocky half-smile while on stage; a quiet confidence that they’re a group of seasoned professionals, even if the venue or crowd or charts tell a different story. No, this doesn’t look like a band who will scrape together unused booze money for floor space at the Econo Lodge between tour stops.
And yet there remained a pure, palpable sense of angst and yearning at the Fox Theatre Sunday night.
Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser spent most of the show choking his microphone as though it were a hairbrush and the capacity crowd was his bedroom mirror. Leithauser led the band through a rousing, if down-tempo, 90-minute tour of their most recent works. Six of the first seven songs came from the group’s masterful September release, “Lisbon,” of which audience members were well-acquainted. “I am a good man / By any count / And I see better things to come,” Leithauser proclaimed in the opening “Juveniles,” a two-step waltz with a head-bobbing shuffle that created a sense of stately arrival, as it does on the record.
The band played nearly every song a hair or two slower than how they appear on wax with a minimal loss of energy. Mid-tempo songs like “Canadian Girl,” a stand-out track from 2008’s “You & Me,” gave Leithauser extra space to politely whine and wail while “All Hands and the Cook” showed the towering singer at his shrieking, wincing best.
As an organism, the Walkmen has evolved drastically since the 90 mile-an-hour anthem and perpetual encore “The Rat” propelled them, if fleetingly, into indie super-stardom six years ago. Leithauser’s trademark screech and conscious disregard for singing on key are, for the most part, cornerstones of a different band. Likewise, the change from jangly, over-strummed guitars and washy hi-hats to an effective use of space has made this band shine in a crowded indie landscape.
Space, for all intents and purposes, was the sixth and primary instrument on stage Sunday night– as haunting and dramatic and heavy as space can be. Newer songs like “On the Water’ and “While I Shovel the Snow” illustrated Leithauser’s gradual maturation into a throaty crooner, a change in ethos that has transformed the band’s sound from artsy rage-rock to one rooted in delicate understatement — where tension and release reign supreme.
Local band and new Fat Possum labelmates Tennis opened the show with 30 minutes of sunny, feminine surf rock and the high-energy duo Japandroids rounded out the night with all angles of the reverberated guitar.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.