Gig review: The Walkmen/School of Seven Bells/Tennis – Terminal 5 – New York, NY 12/2/2010

Thursday night’s triple header in New York City was a show which saw the main act put on one of the best headline performances I’ve seen this year. Held at New York’s Terminal 5, all three acts aimed to impress, but only one came away with more respect than I had for them going in.

The night was led off by Denver’s Tennis, an indie-pop band who I’d heard of, but not heard much of. They recently sold out NYC’s Mercury Lounge, which is one of my favorite venues, so I had high hopes going in. To describe Tennis’ music, the only word I can think of is “sunny”. They play a mix of surf and standard pop-fare. I was a bit annoyed with their set to be honest. I felt that the tunes were there, but the performance was a bit slack and the songs did not suit the mood, at least mine, this night. Lead singer Alaina Moore has a very pleasant voice, but the mix was terrible thanks to the cavernous Terminal 5. The lack of any power behind the volume prevented people, probably majority newbies to this band, from appreciating the ability they do have. I was left unimpressed and was glad when their set was over, which I feel bad about because I wanted to enjoy the set, but things beyond that prevented it. It’s not entirely the venue’s fault, as I do feel the band could’ve put a bit more effort into it, but the mix did leave a lot to be desired. I was able to mic up 40 year old high school auditoriums at 16 and get better sound than the opening acts received.

School of Seven Bells

Up next was a band I’ve become familiar with over the last two years. NYC’s “School of Seven Bells“. SVIIB is another two-piece led by the stunning Alejandra Deheza and Secret Machines’ (are they still together?) Benjamin Curtis.

Similarly to Tennis’ set, the band suffered from the “opening act mix”. Alejandra has a voice that I am very familiar with having seen the band before as well as enjoying their records. However, barely any lyrics were audible because of the muddy sound. Thusly, I don’t think a proper review of their set is possible. Benjamin Curtis was very energetic on the guitar and Alejandra’s clear “shy” attitude was surprisingly refreshing. Her beauty can be overshadowed by her voice, but sadly I was unable to appreciate that to its full potential tonight, but she did look gorgeous.

This night, was all about The Walkmen though.

The Walkmen

I’ve been a fan of this band for a bit now and they are another act that I’ve seen live before. However, I can safely say that no band I’ve ever seen more than once has gotten so much better from one show to the next. The headliner’s set was very heavy on tracks from the fantastic and newest of their records, “Lisbon”, which after and before last night, will be ranked fairly high on my end-of-year list.

One thing I’ve been harping on in this review about this night was the difference on the technical side of things. I completely understand and “get” the idea of opening acts not having the same support technically as headliners get. However, the difference between the two at this particular venue was literally night and day. The Walkmen sounded absolutely amazing. What this says to me, is that maybe I should skip openers next time theres a gig at T5 I want to go to. I doubt that I’ll go that route, but it was such a contrast that it deserves mention. I heard every word and instrument clearly once the headliner took the stage.

The Walkmen deftly tore through a set with singer Hamilton Leithauser playing up the frontman role to a tee. His voice was absolutely fantastic and there are few vocal performances that I’ve seen in recent memory that had me as captivated. Songs like “Canadian Girl” and Lisbon cut “While I Shovel The Snow” were exquisite, and the set closing crowd favorite “The Rat” was very powerful. This was a set I did not want to end, but I can’t say I was angry when it ended before midnight thanks to it being a weeknight. I would go see them again tonight if I could.

Another aspect of the band’s performance this night was how tight the band were musically. Drummer Matt Barrick (who I stated to my friend multiple times looks like Arsenal player Andrey Arshavin) is arguably the best drummer in rock and roll right now, at least on the “indie” side of things. His fills were booming, powerful, and very creative. His facial expressions reminded me of the great Keith Moon, and I’d watch him bang on the drums for an hour and not get bored. I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated a paragraph to a drummer before, so that was a first. Well done, Matt. The horn section the band brought out for more than a few songs was also fantastic. “Best looking horn section ever?” I think you’re right, Hamilton.

The Walkmen have gotten light years better since the last time I saw them. That’s not to say their last performance I caught was bad at all, but they’ve clearly stepped up the quality of not only performance but craftsmanship.

Ratings:

Tennis 5/10

School of Seven Bells 6/10

The Walkmen 9/10

These ratings do take technical affects into them, had Tennis and SVIIB had the same quality behind them as The Walkmen did, both ratings would be markedly higher.

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