The sound of an East Coast winter blew into Los Angeles nightclub The Music Box as the band The Walkmen arrived to support their new critically-acclaimed album, “Lisbon.”
The New York–based indie rock outfit played a 90-minute set before a near-capacity crowd. Over the course of a 14-song set list, the band visited each of their five albums.
The star of any Walkmen performance is the voice of lead singer Hamilton Leithauser. Sounding like a rusty gate soaked in bourbon, Leithauser’s scratchy wail hits heights most singers cannot match. On songs like “All Hands and the Cook,” the singer’s shouts and cries leave one wondering how he manages to make it through a set without damaging his vocal cords.
Leithauser showed vocal range on cooler songs like “We’ve Been Had.” Opening with a jaunty piano riff, the song allows Leithauser to slip into the guise of a ‘50s-style crooner, despite his lyrical claim that he is a “modern guy” who doesn’t care for the retro.
The vocals were supported by a tight rhythm section and the jangly guitar of Paul Maroon. The no-frills presentation highlighted the ability of the players. Looking smart in blazers and button-up shirts, the band took few breaks between songs, though the group did take the time to introduce new songs from “Lisbon.”
Despite the record being released Sept. 14, a day before the show, the crowd seemed to know the lyrics of new tracks like “Woe is Me.”
The new material is stripped down, focusing mostly on guitar, bass and vocals. Drummer Matthew Barrick pounded out a concussive beat on “Victory” as Maroon and bassist Walter Martin locked onto a steady riff. Organist Peter Bauer would occasionally add color with elementary school instruments like the shaker and triangle.
Despite the band’s gloomy, atmospheric sound, the audience latched onto positive messages in The Walkmen’s songs. As “In the New Year” reached a crescendo, a singalong broke out to the call “I know that it’s true, it’s gonna be a good year.” Similarly, the crowd took to heart Leithauser’s promise that “we’re gonna have a good time tonight,” on “Thinking of a Dream I Had.”
The night reached a climax during the group’s biggest hit, “The Rat,” from 2004’s “Bows + Arrows.” A scathing invective about a broken relationship, the song opens with a propulsive organ riff and drums that had the audience stomping their feet with the band. As the floor shook, Leithauser lamented the days he used to be surrounded by friends. Every voice in the venue joined in, providing choral support on a song about loneliness.
On this night, a great experience was shared by all. When the club doors opened, spilling the crowd back into the night, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees. It could have been a late November night in Harlem after all.