By all rights and purposes, The Walkmen is a band that defies categorization. The band?s influences are scattered across an awkward spectrum that ranges anywhere from ?80s new wavers to Joy Division to puppet-voiced balladeer Randy Newman. On the other hand, critics have likened the
band?s music to that of Joshua Tree-era U2 or even the fuzzed-out, grainy recordings of fellow New Yorkers, The Strokes. And The Walkmen themselves? If you take their MySpace page seriously ? and you shouldn?t ? the rockers ever so carefully combine the delicate sounds of hyphy, zouk and melodramatic popular song to craft their albums.
It just seems as if no one can agree long enough about this band?s enigmatic, critically-acclaimed sound to attach a label to it. So, just how does one describe The Walkmen?
Definitely not with a ?
?[The N.Y. genre] probably goes back to the Velvet Underground or something,? Leithauser mumbled through the telephone during an interview with The Badger Herald held minutes before The Walkmen were set to play a show in Milwaukee Friday night.
What about the word ?incredible,? then? Perhaps the vocalist would prefer this word, which seemed to be the classifying term crossing concertgoers?
lips as they left the High Noon Saloon Saturday evening following The Walkmen?s explosive set. This concert, an eclectic collection of boisterous, heavy-hitting tunes, was everything the New Yorkers? albums promise: The percussion boomed, the guitars throttled and lead vocalist Leithauser shrieked and screamed in the most triumphant fashion.
But long before this rusty-throated singer had a chance to exercise his chords, fellow
and ?Fort Nightly.?
No matter how earth-shattering or heart-pounding or gut-wrenching the performances from White Rabbits, nothing could possibly top the spectacle presented by The Walkmen. Kicking off the evening with tracks from 2006?s A Hundred Miles Off and 2002?s Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Leithauser and company finally settled in with ?Little House of Savages,? a stretching, organ-hurling track from their highly praised 2004 album, Bows + Arrows. Clutching his mic for dear life, toppling precariously over the audience and screeching above the explosive instrumental lines, Leithauser finally established himself as a serious, though slightly imposing, presence on the High Noon Saloon?s stage with this rattling performance.
According to Leithauser, however, the somber nature the singer adopts onstage isn?t due to boredom or the beer he stashed behind the speaker. Instead, the singer told the Herald that it?s due to the band members?
deep passion for their music.
?I think maybe we get up there, we just get really into it, and we come off really serious,? Leithauser said.
All the better for audience members, as The Walkmen?s appreciation for the technical difficulty of their music brought more intensity to each awe-striking performance. On the most memorable song of the evening, a startling rendition of ?Thinking of a Dream I Had,? Leithauser oozed frustration as he sang-screamed ?No one speaks to me that way/ And me, I’ll be hanging from the ceiling fan,?
while revelers in the house danced and sang along with the driving chorus. The singer then quickly changed gears and tamed his acidic vocals into a gentle coo for ?Wake Up,? a gritty, slow-tempoed ballad from their 2002 album.
Still, The Walkmen didn?t reserve the entire evening for re-hashing old favorites. Instead, the crew offered audience members a few tunes from their forthcoming album, set to be released this spring. The most notable of these was ?I Lost You,? a lyrically complex, passionate love song with Bob Dylan vocals and a ?60s-era Roy Orbison tone.
Leithauser explained the process succinctly: ?We wrote a few songs where it?s like, you know how [Orbison] always starts with a low growl, and by the end he?s kinda like, [Leithauser imitates a loud shriek]. ? You know, we just sort of found that that was a pretty cool format for songs, so we tried to do that a few times.?
Judging by the crowd?s reaction to the ballad, The Walkmen?s new influences are clearly effective. But longtime fans need not fear, the enigmatic sound of these New Yorkers isn?t going anywhere.
Still guaranteeing more of those buzzing guitars, primal screams and pounding choruses of percussion, their upcoming album promises to be just like The Walkmen?s Saturday night performance ? incredible.