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by Kemp Baldwin

Cymbals Eat Guitars: I showed up fashionably late because life is a competition. Cymbals Eat Guitars one upped me and did not show up at all. They are cooler. At least until I get my 8.8 review on Pitchfork – Best New Kemp.  Anyway, the Antlers filled in the opening slot and I can honestly say they play ¾ of a song wonderfully.

Beach House: Here’s a band that I haven’t given much time to. I’ve caught snippets here and there and thought, “Nice, but far too somber for my world view.” I blame them for this quick brush off. Their name primed my head for some wonderfully catchy yacht rock and they delivered my ears a rich overcast landscape of a melancholic September day – summer waning, school starting. It’s beautiful but if you name yourself something awesomely evocative be ready for the vagaries of the brain backlash, don’t just clap your hands say yeah and hope for the best.

The live show was pretty much this, but after 45 minutes I warmed to it a bit. As a three piece – guitar, drums, and a female lead vocalist manning the keys – they don’t look to explore the space but really just define their small plot of languor pop. It’s gorgeous and distant and kind of how you wish your girlfriend would sound when she was breaking up with you. Instead of yapping about your faults or the other obligatory bullshit, she opens up her mouth and out comes, in stereo of course, this rich, plodding, crush of sound flourished with cascading keys, a stratospheric slide guitar and sad, soothing, retreating vocals that toss you straight into nostalgia– sort of the ultimate it’s not you, it’s me.  To get reductive, this sounds more or less like Cat Power covering Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games” in a tunnel – some of you will take this as a bad thing and for those of you I suggest you revisit that video and do the math.

Though I doubt it, these kids may be David Lee Roth when it comes to stage presence but I can’t comment because Grizzly Ed Droste decided to block my view with his large head – hopefully working on new song ideas. Side note: I’m going to posit this and you’re going to shake your head: I think Grizzly Bear will end up with the indie version of “Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 74-78” – don’t act like you didn’t go to high school. Their albums are all good – I’m not going to say great, despite the hype  – but each release has one, maybe two transcendent baroque pop songs. A couple more albums and they’re there. Two Weeks is Williamsburg’s ethereal answer to Jet Airliner. Yup.

John Norris: Between sets I spotted old MTV New Correspondent John Norris. I wonder if in an attempt to stay young he now PAs on “The City.” The man is at every show whether it be Wavves or the Wiggles. I’m hoping he brings Kurt Loder next time.

The Walkmen:

Some wobbly radio personality introduced the crowd, through a bit of round-about stammering, to the “tightest band on earth.” Steely Dan? No, seven horns and the Walkmen. This seemed like a strange adjective choice for the awkward cadre shuffling on stage. But seven horns? Maybe they’d eschewed their ramshackle rhythms to become a jazz band?

These contemporaries of the Strokes, familiar to most only through a Saturn Ion ad, have never really broken out of their New York mainstay position. And Thursday night was a warm-up gig and going away party before they set out on the road opening for Kings of Leon – younger lads selling more records. But, hey, the Walkmen’s most recent release, “You & Me,” was quietly one of last years best, not owing anything to growth or experimentation but rather a great confidence in their singular sound.

So when the horns opened whistling, the band looked out on the sold-out crowd smiling. And John Norris was somewhere probably jumping around gleefully.

Over the course of the evening they wandered through their catalog, offering up “We’ve Been Had,” (the song America can thank GM for), large portions of their recent release and four new tracks that ranged from meh to marvelous. And they were tight- incredibly tight for a band that revels in the ramble register.

Seeing the band live you’re better able to pin point them and find that separating factor that distinguishes them from the other early aught bands. (And maybe discover the reason for their low success ceiling). Behind the reverb drenched jangling guitars, bouncing keys, and driving drums, they’re not a rock band. They’re an alternative AM pop band – Tony Bennett with distortion. And it’s brilliant masquerade party.

Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser is more Sinatra than he is Jagger, delivering lyrics along the scenic route. He doesn’t have the rock star strut and while he can’t quite pull off that undid bowtie finger-snap-swagger, his pipes are reason enough to see the Walkmen live.