Inspiring the Weekend
Walkmen more than a launching pad
by Andrew Hitz
Clout is hard to come by in the indie world. Sure, there are the bands that end up on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” list and are bolstered to indie stardom, but on the whole, legitimacy is earned with time and tons of touring.
The Walkmen have clout. They etched their name and sound into indie rock history in the early 2000s in Brooklyn and taught youngsters like Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig how to be rock stars. On the 14th, they’ll release their sixth studio album, Lisbon, following up their well-received ’08 release, and are tweaking things up.
It must be an odd sensation to have a former intern blow up as the biggest indie-turned-mainstream sensation in recent history. I’d imagine somewhere in between a coy smile and grinding teeth. But Ezra Koenig took quite a bit away from his stint as an intern for The Walkman in the early 2000s. Koenig’s been and still is a fan of the bands and his vocal melodies reflect that.
“We always joke that if you’re opening for us, you’ll be playing in Radio City Music Hall in like a week,” says Walkmen organist Peter Bauer.
Vampy Weekend has three back-to-back shows lined up at Radio City this month. This seems to be the fate of The Walkmen, though. They play at the WOW; Vampy plays at the McDonald. But somehow it seems appropriate and perhaps even more artful.
Lisbon (currently streaming on NPR’s First Listen) again confirms The Walkmen’s legitimacy and does so more gracefully and maturely than any of their other albums. Straying from the strained vocals of Bows and Arrows and the melancholy of You & Me, the new album chimes optimistically of summer love. Even on the more classic and brooding tracks like “Stranded” there’s a sense of completion that suggests a more positive shift in both Hamilton Leithauser’s lyrics and the musical composition.
“Most people really start to make terrible, terrible music about three or four records in, so we were very aware of that,” says Bauer.
The Walkmen aren’t taking the easy way out of rock and roll. Leithauser’s vocals on Lisbon show their increased maturation on tracks like the poppy “Woe Is Me,” where they soar and dive in a fashion that fans of The National, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire wish their boys could.
While they wield clout among indie giants, The Walkmen are authentic. With Lisbon, Leithauser’s voice has firmly cemented itself as one of the most integral and focal points of the band. Solid indie rock is hard to find, but The Walkmen have proven that, yes, it is still hangin’ around, and it even gets better with age.
The Walkmen, The Helio Sequence. 9 pm Saturday, Sept. 11. WOW Hall • $13 adv., $15 door