I’ve always quite liked the Walkmen but I’ve always felt like they never quite gotten the attention that they really deserve.
But apparently I’m greatly misinformed because their latest albums have been getting pretty great reviews, and the show this evening was sold out; though that could also be partially due to Father John Misty’s appearance. So let’s get into that right after this word of caution;
While I was in line, a few people had to leave because some of their tickets didn’t scan. So pay reaaal careful attention to where you get your tickets, there are some real assholes out there.
Father John Misty is Joshua Tillman, former drummer for Fleet Foxes and Saxon Shore, who decided to flip over his drum set and take up vocal and guitar duties instead. Never before really listened to by my ears; I was actually quite interested to hear what this 6-piece was all about.
All the songs played (excluding one new song) were from their album Fear Fun, and I was impressed enough that I needed more before I drifted off to sleep. But no one cares about that.
‘Funtimes In Babylon’ was their opening song, which was kind of soft and slow while staying at a steady pace so that you could drift along without being left behind. As Tillman took a swig of booze, the crowd cheered, which elicited an “Are you guys encouraging me to make bad choices?” before ‘Only Son Of The Ladies Man’ swept in. This song had Tillman moving around and giving the audience a good show through his dance moves and theatrics. Speaking of which, ‘Nancy From Now On’ started off with some near-grinding on the mic stand as disco-esque beat brought in more beautiful falsetto. ‘I’m Writing A Novel’ was a driving song that made me want to start driving a car or riding a train through the Commodore but I was able to contain myself. Though slowed down, ‘Misty’s Nightmares 1&2’ was a perfect follow-up to the previous song, and saw the return of mic stand grinding.
Someone was apparently a big fan and let Tillman know he was hot. Either that or they noticed he was sweating because he agreed that he was quite hot and needed to get rid of his suit jacket.
“We can play Freebird or I can do this,” says Tillman as he takes the tiniest swig of water and spits it up into the air.
I wanted Freebird but whatever.
‘This Is Sally Hatchet’ is a song with a dark sound to it, which was only amplified by the smoke that started pouring out from Tillman and culminating in a driving, twangy instrumental section near the end which had the whole atmosphere of the song amplified by the cloud of smoke and the strobe lights flashing over the stage as the band pounded it out. ‘Well, You Can Do It Without Me’ starts with a flaming sword and has an organ line that’ll make you wish you could play it too, and ‘Now I’m Learning To Love The War’ is the kind of epic number you’d expect at the end of something on a Broadway (with some choreography that may fit as well). This is where the aforementioned new song fits in; the appropriately named (or at least I’m assuming this is correct), ‘I Love You, Honeybear’.
At the idea of a new song, a member of the crowd gave out a big ol’ “WOOOOO,” to which Tillman appropriately responded “That’s the first lyric of the song.”
It was a slow, steady song, full of love and feeling, and very strong vocals from Tillman. It was an absolute pleasure to hear it live.
“Kill your parents, burn shit, drop out of school,” was the message being sent before ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings’ ended the set, to the ample cheers of the crowd at both the beginning and end of the song.
To say that I was impressed with the set is a bit of an understatement. I didn’t come in with low expectations but the performance still exceeded them. A+, loved it.
So now that, that long-winded intro is out of the way; The Walkmen. Formed in Washington, D.C. but now located in New York City, The Walkmen have been around for around 13 years, and have released a lot of great material which is much more appreciated than I thought before that evening. Which rocks, they deserve it. Hamilton Leithauser’s scratchy, throaty voice combined with their unique twangy sound that you could almost place in a surf rock category and yet you’d never pin it down as such. Heaven is their newest album, which they’ve been touring for since last year (tonight’s show being the last on the tour before they jump over to Europe in April). The album definitely lives up to its reviews, as a couple songs have risen up to be favourites of mine.
They started up with ‘On The Water’ and ‘In The New Year’, two of the best songs off You & Me. The latter had crowd noticeably singing along, so it’s not just me who loves it. ‘The Rat’ off Bows + Arrows is such a fast-paced song filled with emotion, grating vocals that make you wonder how Leithauser can sing so goddamn well but still have vocal cords, and lightning fast drumming that would make my bones split if I tried to emulate the pace. In case you’re wondering, EASILY my favourite song.
Next we’re hit with some Libson in the form of ‘Woe Is Me’, which has a much lighter sound to it, to off-set the heavy mood set by ‘The Rat’. ‘The Love You Love’ from Heaven brings back more heavy driving sound but continuing the theme of strong emotion. ‘Line By Line’ is a lighter, airier song mostly making use of guitar to compliment Leithauser’s voice and fill in the spaces, giving a very different sound to the evening before it crescendos towards the end. We jump back to Libson for ‘Blue As Your Blood’, which has that “riding a horse in the old west” feeling, and ‘Angela Surf City’, a song with a very fitting name for the twang in the guitar.
You & Me makes a final appearance with ‘I Lost You’ and Libson does the same with ‘Juveniles’ before a blast from the past, ‘138th Street’ from Bows + Arrows lets fans of older material know that they haven’t been forgotten. The set ended with two songs from Heaven: ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, which now holds the number 2 spot on my list of favourite songs by The Walkmen (and was one that had the audience cheering for right from the beginning) with the sliding of “Oh”s that Leithauser can accomplish through what can only be wizardry, and the aptly named ‘Heaven’ which is more surf rock-y with more “Oh”s that you could ever ho(h)pe for.
Man I’m clever.
As ‘Heaven’ was ending, Leithauser made sure to make introductions for the rest of the group, Paul Maroon, Walter Martin, Matt Barrick, and Peter Bauer, before leaving the stage and making us cheer and stomp for an encore.
Though they waited us out a bit longer than I was used to, just to add that little fear factor of them maybe not doing an encore, they came back out to play ‘Heartbreaker’ from Heaven as well as heading way back in their discography to ‘We’ve Been Had’ from Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, which was a great choice, giving credit to their first full-length album, and using that somewhat bizarre and calliope piano line that is just really creepily yet pleasant to hear.
As Leithauser shook hands with the audience on his way off the stage, I looked back on the night and was just ecstatic about how things had gone; I got two great bands in one place, lots of good new songs to listen to, and a really awesome t-shirt to boot.
Father John Misty is a great group, and The Walkmen deserve every bit of credit that I apparently don’t give them. This may be the end of the tour (at least for The Walkmen) but if either group is coming to your home town, get that ticket before it’s sold out.
The Walkmen photos © Jamie Taylor
Father John Misty photos © Jamie Taylor