Thank you. Somehow you just knew. You knew that I had been having a string of awful weeks and you knew that I hadn’t seen any live music in quite a while, due to the awful weeks and the soul-sucking day job, and you knew that I needed this to be good. You knew that the particular qualities of the awful weeks would need to be remedied by Scotch and sweating and furious dancing. You even knew that I had moaned an hour before the show that “Louisiana” was not going to sound the same without horns, so what did you do? You brought a trumpet.
Please ignore the haters who dismiss you as another affected study-in-cool New York City band. They don’t know you like I do, baby, and they’re just jealous that you have so much style. Don’t listen to the people who show up to your shows and scream for “The Rat” a third of the way through because they’re bored or that’s the only song they know. You can’t help that it’s among the best songs you’ve ever written or the fact that we live in a society where impatience is rewarded. They’ll come around. I think some of them even did that Friday in Milwaukee.
I was somewhere around Indio, in the apex of the desert, when Tommy Lee kicked in. As I walked through the manicured grass, happily eating corn on the cob, the thin and dust-caked Motley Crue drummer ran up to me, weaving his arms and torso in a spastic model of the Axl Rose snake dance. I continued gnawing on the corn, and flicked my eyes upward in annoyance. He chuckled and regrouped with his bleached-blonde entourage to continue down the field, toward the throbbing bass of Daft Punk.
Even without the icky hair-metal run-ins, this year’s Coachella Festival still would have been the strangest one yet. The cultural oasis of the Colorado Desert (held May 29-30) featured a predictably strong lineup of eclectic indie artists but, pivotally, an additional interest in capturing the mainstream crowd. From Kanye West’s shining ego on Saturday to Madonna’s short-and-skanky dance tent appearance Sunday, the indie snob’s once-safe haven was taken over by squealing strangers – and two sold-out days later, it’s hard to tell whether Coachella will continue down the beaten pop path.
Whatever. For the most part, Coachella still retained its joyous communal atmosphere, a kaleidoscopic place where alternative art reigns and nobody knows your name. (And there are celebrities under every rock.) For me, it was The End: the final fling before graduation, the last irresponsible trip with my best friends. But it was also the beginning, as I discovered thanks to some artists, some new opportunities, and a chance meeting with my very own Yoda, though taller and with some ketchup in his beard.
The Walkmen are taking no prisoners. Family, friends, and loved ones aren’t safe from the waves of guitar and vicious vocals that resonate throughout Bows and Arrows. The band is following up 2002’s Everyone that Pretended to Like Me is Gone with an album showing they are ready to do battle, but didn’t bring enough artillery to win the war.
“What’s In It For Me” is a return to the shimmering guitar that marked the debut and lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s gravelly voice complains, “You never come over anymore,” before giving way to an avalanche of guitar. The song is little more than an extended intro that plods just a bit too long. They would have been wise to either cut it in half or do without it all together—if for no other reason than to get to the blitzkrieg that is “The Rat.” This is a song that can only be described as being behind the wheel of a car going downhill with no breaks. You stand no chance of surviving. The guitar work is relentless, and the drum strikes each time you think you might get a chance to catch your breath. It’s not until Leithauser sings, “When I used to go out I knew everyone I saw. Now I go out alone if I go out at all,” that you feel just how close to putting his fist through a wall he is.
“No Christmas While I’m Talking” completely halts the momentum and is a retread of the opening track. Certainly it’s hard to follow a song as brilliant as “The Rat,” but there are really no excuses for placing such a slow tempo song next. It’s not until “My Old Man” that the momentum has built again, and the band has their weapons drawn once more. Playing like the soundtrack to a family argument, the guitar and drum bring to mind the members of the family storming off to their rooms and slamming the doors: “I refuse to talk this out. ‘Cause I don’t need this now.”
“Thinking of a Dream I Had” delivers a driving drum that fails to quit even as the guitar takes brief breaks from another high-speed chord. The song balances an aggressive guitar with a sweet organ. “Bows and Arrows” is a mid tempo song that perfectly captures the feel of the album with the lyric, “Your head is bent out of shape, but your feet are on the ground,” capturing that uneasy feeling of coming out of a relationship positive you are a better person, but not entirely sure of how to go about picking up the pieces. And throughout that shimmering guitar is kicked up one more level denying you the ability to hang your head.
Bows and Arrows has moments of undeniable brilliance with songs that take you to the edge, but talk you out of jumping at the final moment. It’s just unfortunate that the Walkmen allow your heartbeat to slow on such a consistent basis.