Looking neat in a white collared shirt and black blazer, lead singer of The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser emerged from the cloud of crimson smoke that had engulfed the stage. There was so much of it that the rest of the band looked like mere impressions of men, like shapeless phantoms hovering in the gloom, waiting for the signal to burst into life.
When it came there were no dramatic speeches or cheeky banter preceding it. There were no thunderclaps or pyrotechnics. Leithauser merely wrapped his fingers around the mic stand with the dependence of a deep sea diver has on his oxygen tank and let his exquisitely tortured voice pour into it.
The Walkmen are built around this voice. It's not the most beautiful sound in the world, but the gravelly texture and the sheer power with which Leithauser wields it will make the tiny hairs at the back of your neck stand on end. Any doubts people may have had about the strength of his performance were crushed by the third song when he opened up his throat and belted out "In The New Year".
Waves of hope flowed off the stage and reverberated around the theater as the audience joined in the chorus "It's going to be a good year!" The thumping of the bass drum felt like a politicians hand beating on a desk to punctuate a point, willing the words to be true. After the rollicking number, a man next to me wondered out loud about Leithauser "How can he do that to himself on the third song? He's going to die."
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One does wonder how long Leithauser can possibly continue to sing like that without ripping his vocal chords to shreds. Perhaps he doesn't speak at all during the day or wraps his throat in scarves of the finest silk while pouring hot tea down it in a constant stream. Whatever it is, it's a miracle that the Walkmen have made it through five albums without serious injury. Especially when they insist on writing songs like "All Hands and The Cook" a song that would kill a normal man, but one with which Leithauser used to close the night without a hitch.
Their set was composed of songs from their release Lisbon came out only two days ago, but the crowd already seemed to know it intimately. The two that were greeted with the most gusto were "Juveniles" with its apathetic, devil may care lyrics "Your with someone else tomorrow night/ It doesn't matter to me." and "Woe is Me" which had lovely tropical guitar riffs and heartbreaking lyrics. It seem like everyone was there last night to lick their wounded hearts.
The most vivid example of this appeared in the encore when they played their hit off of Bows + Arrows, "The Rat" which everyone indulged in the cathartic lyrics "You've got a nerve to be calling my number!" Although you couldn't be sure who each audience member was singing to, you knew that everyone had a certain someone in mind.
Well okay, it wasn't doom and gloom for everyone. There were a few girls in the back who screamed like rabid pre-teens catching sight of a shirtless Jonas Brother covered in chocolate when Leithauser sang "Canadian Girl" which is the closest he got to crooning that night. It was a glimpse into what might happen if the Walkmen's next album was full of love songs. They would probably suddenly find themselves launched into heartthrob status. It could be a full on orgy. Let's hope they stick to the current plan.