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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Walkmen vs Estelle

posted by on August 31 at 11:48 AM

This was the one head-to-header yesterday that I really struggled with ahead of time. On the one hand, Estelle, an up and coming R&B singer with a Kanye-dusted summer hit, “American Boy.” On the other, the Walkmen, a studiously trad East Coast rock band with one amazing anthem, “The Rat,” now several years behind them. Turns out I watched a little of both and wasn’t too impressed by either.

2814639916_d4e6393cd5.jpgThe Walkmen by Corey Bayless

The Walkmen are a perfectly fine rock band—not “fine” like jewelry or china, but “fine” like “whatever.” They played the excellent ballad “In the New Year” from their latest, You & Me, and it sounded great, instruments swaying and serenading as if at some NYC/Old World sidewalk cafe, singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice strained and striking the notes just so. Leithauser, it should be noted, has a name that makes him sound like some minor heir, and from afar he has kind of a James Spader from Pretty in Pink look (if you wanted to be a dick, you might imagine him going boating with the Vampire Weekend kids). Damn, was the Broad Street Lawn crowded, though—standing room only, right up to the paved walkway, and with lines in the beer garden so long you’d expect Eugene Mirman to be doing stand up at the end of them. The crowd was enough to keep me from waiting around for “the Rat,” so if anyone with more fortitude than I was there, did they play it?

2813879978_f41bcf803e.jpgEstelle by Kelly O

The Fisher Pavillion’s rooftop beer garden was far more pleasant, although from up there Estelle didn’t seem too remarkable, even with a full band and three backup singer/dancers. Her voice is clearly competent, as was her band, and she’s certainly young, pretty, and stylish enough for Youtube (insert tired rant re: MTV/playing music videos here), but I can’t help but agree with a fellow beer gardener who said she should just “bring Kanye West out” already.

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I opted to see The Walkmen in BC a few nights before Bumbershoot with Man Man and Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, and it was incredible. I don't think the Walkmen are suited for big ass festivals like this, much more of a band to see and appreciate in a darkened club when you've had some beers in you and can kick back and enjoy.

Posted by Tim | September 2, 2008 12:00 PM

"Whatever" and "studiously trad East Coast rock band" don't come close to describing The Walkmen. I agree that the show wasn't earth-shattering, but this is an amazing band with a truly unique sound and artistic proposition.

"The Rat" is really kind of just a radio-friendly one-off rocker that, while a decent song, isn't indicative of what this band does. Hamilton Leithauser is one the most subtle and nuanced storytellers in rock today. The Walkmen's shimmering-rock-waltz wall of sound is unlike anything out there today. Their sound is a sweeping, romantic soundscape that somehow has a kinship with beat-era jazz (though I might be getting that from their attire).

In any event, I think the writer of that post ought to get past the single, and really explore what this band is about before dismissing them as "Traditional".

Posted by Josh | September 2, 2008 3:49 PM

I thought Estelle did a great job, for a 3pm set. I was down near the front of the stage, and maybe that makes a big difference. She connected with the audience, and her backup singers/dancers looked like they were having so much fun. Having listened to her album (which is quite good, btw), I really like hearing the songs live, along with her motivations for writing the songs.

Posted by Emily | September 2, 2008 4:09 PM

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