Over the course of three proper albums (not counting last year’s Pussy Cats, a remake of Harry Nilsson’s album of the same name), the Walkmen have created a distinct musical world. The band’s command of songcraft and mood can at times recall the songs Dylan and the Band recorded in the basement at Big Pink but with a more aggressive, garage-rock approach. And the band doesn’t disappoint live, either, at least not on the March 11 at Schuba’s in Chicago, the second of two sold-out shows.
In fact, the New York City-based Walkmen seem to be truly a live band. Hamilton Leithauser and Paul Maroon have remarkable guitar chemistry — all vintage tones submerged in gallons of reverb. Piano, organ and bass seemed to be up for grabs, with Walter Martin, Peter Bauer, and occasionally Maroon picking up whatever the song calls for. And Schuba’s tiny stage got mighty crowded at times: Several songs, most notably “Louisiana,” were augmented by two horn players. As a frontman, Leithauser is all focused intensity, yet his interaction with the band stayed loose and relaxed.
Los Angeles newcomers the Broken West opened the evening, promoting its new album, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, released in January via Merge. The straightforward power pop outfit has great songs and a lot of emphasis on guitar interplay (it almost reminds me of Summerteeth-period Wilco), which made for a good match for the headliners.