Friday, May 26, 2006

The Walkmen with Mazarin and Nethers, 9:30 Club

Made it down to the 9:30 Club last night to catch homegrown boys the Walkmen. I got there towards the end of Nethers' opening opening set. They showed some promise and my friend remarked that the female lead singer had "a really good voice."

Mazarin came on about 9:30 to a half-full house. I had sampled a few tracks off their myspace page and read some promising reviews. But what tipped the scales was the presence of drummer Patrick Berkery of the Pernice Brothers and -- most importantly -- of one of my alltime favorite bands, Philly's now-defunct Bigger Lovers. The band played with little fanfare, inhabiting a similar sonic-space to other earnest, atmospheric guitar bands like Centro-matic and Band of Horses. Lead singer Quentin Stoltzfus has a Doug Martsch beard but sings with a detachment similar to the Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, were he stoned and his voice soaked with reverb. It's all very unassuming stuff, but the band chugged along at a steady clip, its melodic -- if somewhat indecipherable -- songs accented by a little shoegazing. However, the unquestionable hero of the night was Berkery. Let it be noted that I am a biased, big time fan boy who worships the Bigger Lovers' debut, How I Learned to Stop Worrying, as one of the five or so best albums, ever*. Berkery would've been hard-pressed to do wrong by Stoltzfus's songs, but rarely (read: never?) have I seen a drummer add so much power, energy, and depth to a band. The fills were inventive but effortless, the volume perfect...hell, even the mild theatrics gave the whole act a visual appeal it would've otherwise been missing. I'm just gushing now, but, Mr. Berkery, if you're reading...will you come play drums in my band?

Anyway, there was also a headliner on this night, and the place was packed for the Walkmen's homecoming. We actually saw a few over-served girls get asked to leave, and when their friends weren't bumping up against us, they were distracting my buddy Smokey by making out a couple feet away (apparently I missed this). This was the second night of a June tour in support of their third LP, A Hundred Miles Off, and they played a good deal of that album. From what I heard last night, reviews calling the album a little more bland and not as gripping as the first two are true. They were loud and pummelling, but the nice change-up of "What's In It For Me?" was noticeably missing. The band's stage presence could use a little work too: I've never seen a packed house inspire less enthusiasm. The applause before the encore was half-hearted at best.

Which isn't to say that the show didn't have it's high points; in fact, these high points were quite high. New track "Louisiana" was a real gem, starting off breezy but switching gears a number of times and featuring a brief trumpet hook. I enjoyed "Lost in Boston" quite a bit (both songs available on their myspace page) as well, and, of course, they've got "The Rat" down pat. Drummer Matt Barrack looks like a cast-off from the School of Rock set, but he attacks his drums with such persistence that the double backbeat (a favorite of his too, apparently) is actually dictating my bio-rhythms this morning.

All in all, a good evening of performances. Could've been great, but it seems the Walkmen haven't quite figured out how to translate the push-pull, resignation-anger, back-and-forth of their recorded work into a great live show.

*As Berkery exited the stage, I yelled "Long live the Bigger Lovers." He pointed at us.

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