Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Good For You's Good For Me

concert review: The Walkmen w/ Richard Swift, Rockwell @ Phoenix Concert Theatre(Toronto, Ontario), June 27, 2006

The Walkmen @ Phoenix: photo by Mike LigonTwo out of three ain't bad. Not only a Meatloaf lyric, but accurately describing yesterday's show at the Phoenix. Having more than one opener at a show can make things painfully long especially when they aren't particulary entertaining. Thankfully, it was only first opener Rockwell who didn't do anything for me. And, no I'm not talking about 80's one-hit-wonder Rockwell, although in retrospect I almost wish I was. The Rockwell I'm talking about is a dude from New York City who sort of reminded of that chubby guy who plays guitar for The Hives. Rockwell was an oddity to say the least. He performed these lo-fi, guitar-solo filled ditties backed with prerecorded drum beats and backing tracks and other times sung in a enthusiastic lounge-punk style. It was his in-between song banter or dare-I-say act which was truly peculiar. He had this odd comedic style, with a reliance on certain props, that somehow felt out of place during a music show. At one point he went to the floor where the audience was, with a whip in hand, encouraged a volunteer to come to the centre of the floor with a cigarette and hold it in her mouth and allow him to strike it from her mouth with the whip. Of course, he actually never did it. It was all a big joke and only mildly funny at that. Later on he ended his set by actually playing a song by another artist(Dr. Dog) on his iPod while he sort of casually lip-synched the words. Part of me wanted to enjoy his schtick, but I'd have to go with my gut and say that I'd didn't particularly enjoy it.

It didn't take long for next act, Secretly Canadian's Richard Swift and his bandmates to set up and begin their set. They performed an interesting brand of pop music which had hints of psychedelic, baroque and ragtime elements. Musically, it sounded like the less cabaret-sounding side of Rufus Wainwright and was far less indie-rock sounding than I'd expected. For one, they could actually play their instruments. I particularly liked the keyboardist's spot-on arrangements, and he wasn't even side-tracked when his keyboard wouldn't work, instead signalling a roadie/sound-guy in the middle of one song to help him roll out a small piano, set up the mic and then continue to play. Overall, it was a decent set and a good warm-up to The Walkmen.

The Walkmen are instrinsically New York. Not New York like The Strokes but perhaps their artier cousins. The urgency of a tune like "The Rat" hinted at some of their punk influences but with a dollop of soul that I don't hear in much of indie-rock or rock for that matter. The Walkmen's artier side shone through on tracks like the sixties, almost girl-group-ish "Another One Goes By" and the mariachi-influenced lead off track "Louisiana" off their newest album "A Hundred Miles Off". Admittedly, I'm not that familiar with their albums, but that really didn't stop me one bit from enjoying their thrilling set. While there wasn't any stage banter to speak of and the band steam-rolled through their set, the musical element was more than enough to compensate for those things that were lacking. There were a lot of nice percussive elements, piano arrangements, strummy guitar playing, and of course lead singer Hamilton Leithauser's distinctive vocals. Even before reading comments over at Stille Post about the show, I'd already thought that Hamilton, during the show, sounded quite a bit like an emotive Bob Dylan. When Hamilton would sort of lean sideways and passionately sing into his mic, it was sublime. The night ended with a couple of encores and a lot of smiling faces.

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