The Walkmen – Live Show @ NYC Terminal 5

The Walkmen @ Terminal 5. Photo: Village Voice

There’s a huge, pulsing vein on the side of Hamilton Leithauser’s neck. Anytime the Walkmen frontman howls, which he did pretty frequently last night at Terminal 5 while headlining one of CMJ’s biggest shows, that vein throbs uncontrollably. And as he yelps, he sometimes squeals a bit, too, but in a way that’s completely focused and precise, holding the microphone close to his mouth like a freshly picked apple, leaning back, cocking his head at a 45 degree angle, and squeezing out heartbreaking lyrics of love lost and nostalgia.

The Walkmen were born in New York City. Their debut record, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, was recorded in a homemade studio in Harlem back in 2001. That first album, much of which deals with misperceptions and love gone wrong, bleeds Gotham’s influence. It, of course, helped define the band’s sound: A blend of vintage guitars and the use of an upright piano, all underneath Leithauser’s controlled and poignant squawk. But moreover, with songs such as “We’ve Been Had” that embrace self-aware lyrics and critiques, the band revealed that they weren’t just another bunch of rockers trying to drink beer and be young forever, but rather utilized their fears about growing up too fast as a strength. Fans latched on, and the group followed up with Bows + Arrows, the record that gave the world “The Rat,” arguably one of the most culturally defining songs of the aughts. Its bridge, “When I used to go out, I would know everyone that I saw / Now I go out alone if I go out at all,” became an anthem for young, fresh-faced kids moving to the city with hopes of one day calling themselves real New Yorkers. It’s still found played on repeat in bars across the city, and, yes, people do still sing along. The likes of the Killers or the White Stripes may have been playing across the country’s rock radio stations, but in a certain sector here, no band was more important than the Walkmen.

The Walkmen recognize this, or at least understand the influence this city has had on their careers. Last night between songs, Leithauser said that the show felt like a “real homecoming,” even though none of the band members live here anymore. Back in May, in an interview I did with bass and organ player Peter Bauer, he told me New York has “always been our hometown in terms of playing.” The fans seem to know it, too. I overheard a couple guys behind me counting the number of times they’ve seen the Walkmen, and kept losing track. On the way out of the venue, another girl mentioned that every time she’s been to a Walkmen concert–“which has been like a million times”–they’ve never disappointed. “Duh,” her friend said in reply. “Why would they?”

These days, many of the members have spouses and kids and dogs and backyards, and probably do go out alone, if they go out at all. Their sixth record, Heaven, which was released earlier this year, was recorded in Seattle (Seattle!) with the same producer (Phil Ek) responsible for much of that sensitive music from the Pacific Northwest, which tends to produce a certain kind of music that a certain kind of music fan likes to hate. Overall, the album was received mostly positively, but a few places noted this change in approach. SPIN called it “brunch rock”, with former Voice writer Camille Dodero noting it was “suitably palatable background music for the locavore café that serves fried eggs with beets, ricotta-and-fig sandwiches, and kale as a side.” And maybe that’s true. But it’s hard to fault the band for playing music that might be a more appropriate soundtrack for sitting on back porches versus doing whiskey shots at the bar. After all, you write the life that you know.

But last night, the Walkmen avoided brunch. After opening the show with a few cuts from the new album, the band took a turn for their earlier work in their career. Leithauser meant what he said about the show being a homecoming, as he seemed to be returning to an old self that used to walk the streets of Harlem. He channeled someone greener, more innocent, more naive. During a rendition of another classic Walkmen track from their 2008 record You & Me, “In the New Year,” he crooned his blind optimism wholeheartedly over rolling guitar strums: “It’s gonna be a good year, out of the darkness, into the fire, I’ll tell you I love you.” Later, the cuts went deeper, with performances of “Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone” and “Hang On Siobhan.”

The moment in which the band truly embraced their younger selves was during the four-song encore. Opening with “138th Street” from Bows & Arrows, Leithauser reminisced about recording in the “loudest” studio in New York, following that up with “Louisiana” from A Hundred Miles Off. Then, despite being known for being reluctant to playing the track live these days, they launched into the prowling, driving opening guitar riff of “The Rat.” The band members, all dressed in their respective version of layering blazers and collars and ties, vibrated around stage, with concertgoers joining Leithauser in screaming and shaking. After they wrapped, they surprised everyone with one more: “We’re the Walkmen; we’re originally from New York City,” Leithauser said through a squint. “I’ll see you around, this is ‘We’ve Been Had.'” The piano suddenly fluttered and Leithauser quietly sang his lyrics of seeing himself change, and after finishing, he set down the microphone and jumped into the crowd, walking around, shaking hands, and high-fiving anyone who swarmed him, submerging himself once again in New York City.

Critical Bias: This was the first time in my life that I’d seen the Walkmen. It was a Big Moment.

Overheard: “That’s the best fucking song ever!!!” -Dude next to me after a solid rendition of “In the New Year.”

Random Notebook Dump: Surprised I’ve only seen one fedora.

Set List:
Line By Line
The Love You Love
Blue As Your Blood
Angela Surf City
On the Water
In the New Year
Hang On Siobhan
I Lost You
Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone
Love Luck
All Hands and the Cook
We Can’t Be Beat

138th Street
The Rat
We’ve Been Had

Eric Sundermann
Terminal 5
610 W. 56th St., New York, NY

Related posts:
The Walkmen – Terminal 5
Tunes to Play After You’ve Been Fired

Being Successful Doesn’t Mean Being the Most Talented: American Music Awards Crown Justin Bieber Artist of the Year

Justin Bieber accepts the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album onstage during the 40th American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on November 18th, 2012.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Bieber also won Favorite Pop/Rock Album for Believe and Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist. The Canadian teen sounded defiant after his first win. “This is for all the haters that thought that I was here for maybe one or two years.” Bieber added: “I feel like I’m going to be here for a very long time.”

Keith Caulfield at Billboard projected that Justin Bieber’s album, “Believe” would sell between 400,000 and 500,000 copies in its first week, making it the best album debut of 2012.

According to Forbes, Bieber sold $150 million in concert tickets, and $60 million in fragrance, in 2011 alone. There’s no way for an album — except maybe Adele’s “21” — to compete with that.

Still, the biggest debuting album of the year is sure to make a bundle of money. So HuffPost Entertainment consulted with music industry experts to approximate just how big that bundle might be.

“Once you move on to Bieber’s payment as a performing artists, things get complicated. These figures depend heavily on the nature of his deal with his label, Island Def Jam Records. And our anonymous sources could only guess what his deal might be. One big question mark involves the percentage of marketing costs for the album Bieber is required to recoup — if the label spent a lot marketing “Believe,” and it requires Bieber to repay them for that, he could conceivably make almost nothing as a recording artist.”

“But that’s not likely. Assuming that Bieber has to recoup a moderate amount of the label’s outlay, he should start earning royalties after selling between 400,000 and 800,000 copies of “Believe.” A typical artist makes royalties of between 10 and 15 percent of album revenue, though Prince and Madonna made headlines when it was announced that they commanded a 20 percent royalty. We’re going to assume that Bieber is somewhere in between those two extremes, and commands an 18 percent royalty. If that’s the case, he should make between $1 million and $2 million as a recording artist off the whole US run of the record.”

“That brings his total income from album sales to between $1.4 million and $2.4 million.”

“From there, the biggest variable is singles. A hit single like “Boyfriend,” which gets lots of radio play and also sells millions of copies on iTunes, could easily add $1 million to Bieber’s total revenue on the album. About six of the songs on the album, including “Boyfriend,” look like they could make plausible singles. Not all of them will necessarily be huge hits — but it still looks likely that Bieber would make at least $4 million or $5 million on sales and radio revenue from singles.”

“Tally it all up, and domestic sales of “Believe” and its singles could net between $5 and $7 million for Bieber — not bad for an 18-year-old!”

My final verdict of that Believe album by Justin Bieber is that it sounds exactly like Usher’s new album with every song sounding the same.

Justin Bieber the best artist? What a sad state the music industry is in, if the best they have is this child.

There’s great music being made, but it’s not on the radio, and much of it is not selling the types of records it used to. In many ways it has to do with record companies not making as much money as they used to. Having money gave them the freedom to sign and develop so many more acts. Record companies could be “chefs” back them. Taking the time to prepare and cook dishes that stretched consumers palettes. Now because that risk is so great, they just serve fast food to make a profit and have joined in with the fashion industry to sell it dressed in fancy rags.

Obviously, it is unhealthy artistically for the consumer. That mentality also bleeds down to creatives. They are striving creatively, but the most successful acts they’re trying to emulate are just fructose corn syrup. That’s why we freak the hell out when someone like Ryan Adams, Hamilton Leithauser, Jack White, Amy Winehouse and Academy Award-winning Ryan Bingham, among other brilliant artists, come along. They are so rare these days. I watched talented people release records they can’t even get their mother to buy. Then I see much less talented people sell millions.

By far it’s disappointment and feeling like you’re not good enough at what you do. The music business is 1,000 failures and 1 victory. It’s always that way. Doesn’t matter how long you do it. Also, there is always going to be someone better than you at what you do. You can’t focus on that. Everyone has something unique to offer. Being successful doesn’t mean being the most talented. You’ve got to learn how to process disappointment in a healthy way and compost it into motivation to continue on.