There’s a reason that so many bands these days sound heavily influenced by Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone and The Walkmen’s subsequent efforts. It’s because they’re damn good.
I’d heard rumors before the 4th that the “secret headliner” for Barn on the 4th of July was going to be The Walkmen. The moment I confirmed it with Mr. Daytrotter himself, Sean Moeller, the excitement I already felt in anticipation for the Barnstormer reached a fever pitch, an anxious need to get to Iowa and get there as soon as I could, all the while listening only to Bows + Arrows, You + Me, and, of course, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone.
My adoration for The Walkmen goes far back, obviously, and is rooted deep in my heart, with front man Hamilton Leithauser being one of my first “indie rock crushes” back in the day. Something about Leithauser’s lyrics bore their way into me, relating to a part of myself that many musicians try to reach but few actually succeed in getting to. Much as there is a reason that so many “dream pop” bands sound like The Walkmen, there’s also a reason why “The Rat”, The Walkmen’s 2004 single off Bows + Arrows, is so revered. With it’s sloppy-sexy refrain of “When I used to go out, I would know everyone that I saw; Now I go out alone, if I go out at all”, Leithauser taps into the sadness of being a disillusioned twenty-something, much like The National do, but instead of having a baritone anchor like that of Matt Berninger, Leithauser’s frantic yelps as he asks “Can’t you see me, I’m poundin’ on your door?” perfectly encapsulate the manic-post college depression so many kids go through these days when they begin to realize drinking every night doesn’t always factor into adult life.
Taking the above anecdote about my introduction to The Walkmen into account, it’s no surprise that “We’ve Been Had” hit like a sucker punch when the band launched into it after their revelatory performance of “In The New Year”. As Leithauser shouted inimitably into the microphone with passion that far exceeded his seductively lackadaisical stage presence, it was almost like falling in love with The Walkmen all over again only I’d never fallen out of love with them, I’d just never been so lucky as to see them so intimately before. When “We’ve Been Had” faded into the self-deprecating and anthemic jolt of “The Rat”, the crowd was overcome with a palpable euphoria. Girls were dancing, men were singing, beers were being spilt with haphazard elation. Suddenly, the only thing that mattered was that we were all there, in a barn, in Maquoketa, Iowa, and The Walkmen were sharing the moment with us.
Seeing one of my favorite bands of the past five years share the stage with one of my favorite bands of the past ten years was easily the best moment of my professional life. It’s fun going to concerts all the time but after a while, it burns you out, especially being in a city like Chicago where something’s always going on. The whole beauty of the experience begins to lose a bit of it’s wonder. Nights like the 4th of July, however, remind me what passion is and even now, more than a week later, I can still feel the excitement of stumbling through cornfields, making repeated beer runs, dancing with wonderful women, and flirting with wonderful men, all set to the backdrop of some of the best bands I’ve ever seen.