The Walkmen strutted to their places on the Vogue's stage Tuesday like a band with nothing left to prove. But prove one thing they did: after 10 years and six albums together, they're still one of the most exciting and consistent bands on the scene today.
The NYC-based band released Lisbon earlier this year, the latest in a string of increasingly excellent (and critically acclaimed) LPs. On record, the band is difficult to categorize—a strange brew of 60's pop, 80's alternative, 00's garage rock and ingredients unknown. But despite their obsession with antique pianos and shimmery, reverb-heavy guitars (also vintage), the show was loud, and intoxicatingly energetic.
Opener A.A. Bondy fit the bill perfectly as a first-glance folk rocker with a distorted, noisy side. Bondy squeezed a heroic amount of feedback from his hollow body Guild, covering his two-piece band's heavy drum and bass grooves with squalls of reverb and delay-drenched guitar. The result was something that sounded a bit like if Dylan had gone electric with Sonic Youth instead of The Band.
Bondy's voice was frequently swallowed by the wall of sound, making his vocals difficult to follow and lyrics impossible to understand. His set was great in spite of it, as epic guitar wails tended to take center stage, and a song without the band gave Bondy the chance to showcase his solo songwriting mettle.
The Walkmen started with Lisbon's explosive first two tracks, "Juveniles" and "Angela Surf City," before launching into two other of the album's other highlights, "Blue As Your Blood" and "Woe Is Me." The new material worked magnificently in a live setting, particularly "Angela Surf City," which set the tone for the rest of the night with its dreamy guitar and Hamilton Leithauser's trademark soaring vocals.
Even so, the band's older songs were easily the most impressive. Though it was my first time seeing these guys live, they seemed completely on top of their game, turning songs I'd listened to for years on record into sheer rock awesomeness on stage. "All Hands and the Cook" was an entirely different beast than its recorded version on 2006's A Hundred Miles Off, building rapidly in intensity to a sustained high-pitch wail from Leithauser. As the rest of the band stopped and the audience roared approval, it felt like the first steep drop in a rollercoaster ride—a weightless euphoria with screaming people all around.
The rest of the set was a balanced mixture of new and old material, ending in personal favorite "In the New Year." A pummeling version of "The Rat," one of the band's most famous (and critically recognized) songs, proved the best of a three-song encore, ending the show with even more energy than its beginning. If they keep turning in performances like that, and albums like Lisbon, Leithauser's optimistic "In the New Year" exclamation could be true for the band in 2011 as well: "It's gonna be a good year."