Walkmen 3

The night before the madness of the Austin City Limits Music Festival was set to commence, three of the festival’s bands played a packed show at Emo’s, and rightfully so. The Walkmen, one of the crown jewels of the New York City indie scene, along with Portland folk group Blitzen Trapper and Baltimore’s Wye Oak provided several hours of great music.

Wye Oak started the night off with a pleasant set of tunes. Even though they have two albums under their belt, the band are still growing. Their two person lineup seems at times to limit their sound, but there is no denying that lead singer Jenn Wasner has a pleasant voice, and the fact that drummer Andy Stack plays his kit with one hand and a keyboard with the other is quite impressive. While I was not at all blown away by their set, they were by no means a bad opening act. If they play their cards right, there is a lot of potential that can be tapped in to.

Blitzen Trapper followed soon after, with a solid set of folk-tinged indie rock.  Lead singer Eric Earley has a very distinctive voice that has often been compared to Bob Dylan. Regardless of how good his impersonation may be, he has a knack for writing songs with lyrics that easily conjure up images of the countryside of the Pacific Northwest, and he is backed by a band that is more than capable of accompanying him. The six piece played very well together, and there were many great songs to be heard. Songs from their latest album, Furr, were especially appreciated, as it was the album that saw the group really hit their stride. The acoustic “Lady on the Water” and the piano driven “Not Your Lover” were the standouts of a set that reaffirmed why Blitzen Trapper have become one of the most respected folk bands in the indie community.

Despite Wye Oak and Blitzen Trapper’s performances, the night belonged to the Walkmen. The band makes music that is  filled with energy and urgency, while at the same time is melodic and spacial. Listening to the Walkmen on record, you get to hear the sheer amounts of skill and finesse that the group possesses. Seeing them live only highlights these qualities.

Musically, the group has several distinct calling cards, all of which were present as they plowed through their Emo’s set. One of the most obvious is their use of an organ and a finely tuned keyboard in a vast majority of their songs. Walter Martin’s key arrangements provide their songs with many memorable hooks, and gives them a sort of edgy, yet jubilant, vibe. Paul Maroon’s guitar playing is another aspect that sets the Walkmen apart from their contemporaries. He plays with an almost uncanny amount of confidence, and the sounds that come from it can be recognized almost instantly. Additionally, drummer Matt Barrick is one of the most skilled drummers in rock, as only a select few can match his skills behind a kit. Lastly, there is lead singer Hamilton Leithauser. He can go from crooning one minute to a scream that sounds as if he will shatter his vocal chords the next. He sings with the kind of nervous energy that most front men can only dream of. His voice is truly one of a kind.

With four proper albums of material under their belt, there was no shortage of songs that displayed the band’s unparalleled abilities. Their latest single from 2008’s You & Me, “On the Water,” was just as hauntingly beautiful as it was when it was recorded in the studio. “The Rat,” which was recently voted by Pitchfork as the #20 track of the 2000’s on their list of 500, saw the band playing at a breakneck speed while nailing every single note. Hearing Leithauser yell “Can’t you hear me?/ I’m calling out your name!” was an almost divine experience amidst the euphoria of the music. The same could be applied to “Little House of Savages” and “In the New Year.” The slower songs, such as You & Me‘s “Red Moon,” provided a short rest from the manic energy of most of the songs, but were beautiful in their own right. By the time the band came back on to play “Donde Esta La Playa,” it was evident that the crowd had been moved by The Walkmen’s performance.

There was not a single disappointed person in the crowd by the end of the show. The Walkmen ably showed why they survived the over saturation of the New York City scene earlier in this decade. The band have been playing together for almost 10 years now, and as they grow older, the legacy of their music continues to expand.

All three bands made for a show that was well worth it, and would be enough for anyone going to ACL to get excited about the next three days of music.

Wye Oak:

Wye oak

Blitzen Trapper:

Blitzen 1

Blitzen 2

Blitzen 3

The Walkmen:

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Walkmen 1

Walkmen 2

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