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Sunday January 20th, 2008 at Schubas in Chicago, IL
The Walkmen, White Rabbits, & White Denim
Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen
Walter Martin of The Walkmen
Stephen Patterson of White Rabbits
James Petralli of White Denim
[more photos]
[10.1M mp4 video]

I'm afraid I don’t really have time for a full account of the show, so here's the quick paragraph version.

White Denim is a trio hailing from the great state of Texas. And like its bearded progenitors, there is a lot of boogie in the band's rock. To prove this point, frontman James Petralli relies heavily on his wah wah pedal, while Steve Terebecki lays down bold fingered bass lines. Although the band's straightforward rock & roll is all well and good, it also has some severe prog-rock leanings. Petralli utilizes digital loops to intertwine guitar lines around himself, and drummer Josh Block keeps up with the complex polyrhythm. This later sound was very King Crimson. Despite the band's devotion to these tried genres, somehow it all comes across as fresh and driving indie rock. Not sure how they do it, nor am I sure I'm a fan. I may be in the minority there though – the band seems to have plenty of fans.

The parade of "w" bands continued with Brooklyn's (by the way of Columbia, Missouri) White Rabbits. I'd seen the six-piece before and was nothing but impressed. The band comes in pairs. First there are two frontmen who each carry lead vocal duties, guitarist Gregory Roberts and keyboardist Stephen Patterson. And second there are two drummers, Matt Clark and Jamie Levinson, who each sit behind a full drum kit. If that percussion weren't enough, bassist Adam Russell will occasionally pick up sticks and go to work on any available floor tom. Percussion is one of the band's keys – the guitar work of Alex Even and the aforementioned Roberts is another. Guitars are always driving and strumming in an effort to propel the songs forward. The result was that both guitar and piano intricacies were lost in the band's live show. Luckily Patterson's voice cut through it nicely, especially when he strained and pushed for volume. The band found its stride by the middle of the set (playing both "Navy Wives" and "While We Go Dancing" back-to-back as they appear on the album), but it never exploded with energy as I had seen previously. When the soundman warned the band there was only time for one more song, any remaining energy the band had was lost.

Despite the fact that the White Rabbits were pulled off stage early, The Walkmen let the stage sit empty and ready to go for about twenty minutes before playing. What does any band hope to accomplish with that?

I can't say I'm a fan of The Walkmen. I've always known it as a serviceable band, but it has never released anything that excited me. Sadly, its live performance was similarly "okay." Frontman Hamilton Leithauser was a bit removed from his audience – except when he misjudged the stability of a floor monitor and fell into the audience. Instead, he seemed focused on exercising whatever demons inspire his howls and tortured grimaces. When he wasn't in the grips of agony, his voice was soft and Dylan-esque (to put it mildly). The rest of the quintet went about its business quietly and effectively, creating songs that were rich and tinged with interesting moments. When Leithauser contributed guitar, the songs were denser with an oppressive, churning undercurrent; quieter songs were languid, and drifted aimlessly. While the audience wasn't exactly bored, it did match the band's energy level. I, however, was bored.