Review and photos by Mary Rehak.
Arbitrary as it is, The Walkmen seem like a band inextricably tied to winter holidays – possibly due to their oft-utilized and expansive horn sections. Well, their Stubb’s show was just like Christmas come early for the patient crowd. There was a range from underage kids to great-grandparents representing Austin music love, and everyone was obviously enjoying themselves without annoying their neighbors (and how difficult that is to find at a show?).
Opening was TV Torso, a band who is, locally at least, on the rise. The Walkmen may have been the big draw for the 4th, but if you showed early enough, but these guys had their supporters out in the crowd as well. They recently have opened for some big-name touring acts, which means someone high in the show-booking echelons thinks they’ve got promise. Definitely a band to catch live (possibly so you can say you saw them before they hit it big), TV Torso have soulful vocals and well-crafted, catchy indie-pop tunes.
Next up were Walkmen tourmates The Head and the Heart. For a band whose recorded music is generally softer, live they were energetic and jaunty, with stage presence to spare. Their stellar vocals were occasionally reminiscent of Califone’s whispery rasp, and with folky charm and a very tight set, these guys really got the crowd’s love.
Then it was time for the band everyone was there to see. The Walkmen hit the stage with a trio of songs that showed they were taking no prisoners. Crowd favorites – and arguably the record singles – “In the New Year” and “Angela Surf City” followed a mellow first song, and the band continued ratcheting up the intensity throughout the set. The set list was perfectly arranged, alternating fast and more mellow tempos, changing things up often to keep all focus with laser intensity on them. Singer Hamilton Leithhauser’s consistently earnest and passionate vocals are almost unbelievable in person. The emotion he brings to every song took the crowd through a wringer, and by the end everyone looked dazed and exhilarated. It is impossible to imagine that level of intensity brought to a stage every night for a tour.
For an hour and a half they owned the stage and the entire audience. When they walked back for their encore everyone knew what was coming. After they brought the local guest horn players back for just one other song, “Stranded,” they obliged with “The Rat,” their enormous hit single from almost a decade ago. They finished their set with “We’ve Been Had,” calling it the first song they ever wrote.
(The Walkmen performed on March 4, 2011 at Stubb’s in Austin, Texas)