Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Performance Review: Familiarity (Breeds Contempt)

The Walkmen played Mercy Lounge this past Sunday. I was there.

They’re one of those bands that I know of, that people I know really like, but I’ve never heard them enough to form an opinion one way or the other. But whatever, Bill, Paul, Chris and I got our hands stamped and got a really great show.

This is the thing about seeing a reportedly good band that you’re not familiar with...you’re allowed to have neutral expectations. Bill had given me a copy of 2008’s You & Me, I enjoyed it quite a bit and was interested to see how they’d pull that off, but wasn’t familiar enough to wish for any preferred cuts. After the show, Paul and I were talking about how when you go see a band you’ve liked for several years/albums, you often find yourself getting bored with the newer stuff 'cos there's a bunch of older “classics” you're waiting to hear. In many ways this was the case when we saw Depeche Mode in Atlanta earlier in the month. I love the new DM album and they played several key tracks from it, but since that was my first (and last) time to see them, I really wanted to hear those classics that I've loved for 20 years now. Which is sort of a shame, ‘cos a band with a new album should be allowed to showcase their latest efforts without polite, derivative applause after those numbers and then a deafening roar whenever the opening notes of Wicked Game, Brown Sugar or The Final Countdown hit the scene. But we’re all guilty of that, even me -- your judge, jury and executioner.

And that’s what made the Walkmen’s performance refreshing, 'cos I appreciated the two or three songs I recognized from You & Me, and didn’t find myself bored with any certain song and anticipating what would be next in the set. You’re just cheating yourself when you do that, not getting the full enjoyment of the tunes the band has handpicked for your optimum listening pleasure. Or maybe they’re just indulging themselves with whatever they want to play at your expense (Billy Corgan).

But regardless, the Walkmen did put on a great show. Their retro-vampy-southwestern style put through the indie blender the way the kids are doing it these days was both relaxing and energizing. They were able to bring it all with just the five basic instruments of rock n roll and a little implementation from a three trumpet horn section on various selections.

I’d been told that their drummer was sensational and, from what I heard, he certainly was. I wish I could have seen him, but the Mercy Lounge has no drum riser, so I could only glimpse the blurred fury of his arms through momentary parts in the crowd from time to time. But for me, the real secret weapon of the Walkmen is guitarist Paul Maroon. The sounds he was able to coax from his hollow body were one part Chet Atkins, two parts Andy Gill and at all times awe-inspiring.

The boys were there to rock, or in some cases just roll easily along, and there was very little banter between songs. New songs were identified as such (thanks, but they were mostly all new to me) and I found I enjoyed them the most of the set, which makes me think I might be interested in picking up their next album whenever it comes along…which is why you’re supposed to showcase your new songs, so that people will buy your new album.

Honestly, there isn’t a negative thing I can mention about their set. Part of me does wish that I’d been more familiar with their catalog so that I would have maybe enjoyed it more, and yet for the reasons mentioned above, I’m not entirely sure I would have. Back in the days before Internet’s quick and ready access to music (it was called “The 90s”), we often went to see bands on word of mouth, zine write-ups and maybe the odd seven-inch or song played on local college radio. And as often as not, I had some of the best live experiences of my life and discovered several bands that have stayed with me throughout the years. I can’t promise the same thing will happen with the Walkmen, but it was nice to appreciate a band’s songs based on the way they delivered them raw and ready more than bringing my expectations tainted by album familiarity (breeds contempt).

Here are a few live vids…

New Song

I Lost You

The Rat

1 comment:

wagners of rock said...

Good point. I rarely take the chance to go see a band i'm not very familiar with anymore and i probably miss out on a lot. I like the Walkmen enough but if i'd known they were going to play both Brown Sugar and Final Countdown, i totally would've gone.