Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, competing with traffic and signs promoting the Dave Matthews Band across the street at the Hollywood Bowl, The Walkmen kicked off their North American tour at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Wednesday night. A doting crowd of die-hard fans attended — bearded hipsters sipping boxed wine and women rocking out with red lipstick.
The setting for such a show could not have been more picturesque: a natural amphitheatre set between trees and hillsides — even a family of deer chose to make an appearance as opener Milo Greene closed its set with the buoyant new single “1957.”
As the main attraction began, The Walkmen’s guitarist Paul Maroon stood alone onstage playing the soft, beautiful intro to “Line By Line,” a track off the band’s most recent album Heaven. The crowd collectively held its breath as the ethereal tune filled the amphitheatre. After a solid minute, the rest of the band entered to welcoming applause.
The Walkmen were quick to tear through four crowd-pleasing songs off their new album, Heaven: “Line By Line,” the harmonious “We Can’t Be Beat,” the album-titled track “Heaven” and “The Love You Love.” The last had ladies wiggling in their seats.
As well-performed as these newer songs were, the crowd was visibly anxious; the latest album, though a statement of maturity for the veteran band, was considered too light-hearted and clean cut for the band’s longtime fans.
The band’s attire did nothing to appease these anxieties. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s dapper suit and skinny tie looked all too polished for a man once known for his angsty, drunken lullabies. The Walkmen, his outfit seemed to suggest, had grown up.
Not until Leithauser trailed in to “Blue as Your Blood,” from 2010’s Lisbon, did the crowd really wake up. Leithauser wailed, gripping the microphone as though at a basement show in 2003 all over again, and the audience goes for a journey through the good ol’ days. As women (and men) let their hair down and the beers and boxed wine flowed, it was evident that the crowd felt nothing but nostalgia.
The Walkmen slowed their set down with “Red Moon,” a beautifully complex arrangement from 2008’s You & Me. That song’s use of horn quartet lead straight into the artful horn intro of “Stranded.” As Leithauser sang, “You don’t want me … you can tell me,” the lead singer plucked the audience’s heartstrings.
Twelve songs into the set, the concert reached its culmination when drummer Matt Barrick started the infamous downbeat of “Angela Surf City.” Within seconds, the audience jumped to its feet in a wave of fervor.
By this point, any of the band’s questioning fans were surely at ease.
Leithauser commanded the audience, belting into the microphone so loudly the nosebleed sections could feel the rasp in his voice and the strain of his vocal cords. Bouncing rhythmically behind his drum kit, Barrick was an absolute source of energy.
The crowd stayed on its feet with 2006’s “Louisiana,” a jazzy number in which couples swayed to the sounds of pianist Peter Bauer clanging away at the keyboard.
By the encore, which drew exclusively from albums dating between 2006 and 2009, The Walkmen reassured fans of their true nature. Though the band members have grown since their days as New York City rabble-rousers, stepping into new roles as family men, they are no less attached to their past work.
The night was a fine display of The Walkmen’s vast and growing catalogue of hits. Their decision not to play what is perhaps the band’s most beloved song, “The Rat,” irked some, but it was impressive to see the band inch just a bit forward in this way.
The Walkmen have proven that they don’t need “The Rat” to validate its sound.