When the Walkmen's plangent anthem "We've Been Had" showed up in a Saturn commercial, fans understandably winced. Selling out is one thing, but the way the admen had transformed an ambivalent look at the passing of youth into a standard-issue bill of goods was almost too much to bear. Given their history, however, it was hard to hold it against the boys in the band. The group's core members are survivors of Jonathan Fire*Eater, perhaps the most spectacular disappointment of the mid-90s. Their celebrated 1996 indie EP, Tremble Under Boom Lights--a stellar set of five angular post-Troggs experiments--promised great things. But while Wolf Songs for Lambs, the subsequent Dreamworks full-length, was a fine album, the band crumbled under a mass of misguided expectation and perceived failure. Guitarist Paul Maroon, keyboardist Walter Martin, and drummer Matt Barrick regrouped in 2000 to form the Walkmen with bassist Peter Bauer and singer Hamilton Leithauser. An ice bath to JF*E's fever dream, their stunning 2002 debut, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (Startime International), tempered Maroon's angry ax-jangle, allowing Martin to trade organ menace for spectral piano and Leithauser to croon where JF*E front man Stewart Lupton fretted and stomped. On the new Bows and Arrows (on the Warners imprint Record Collection), the interlaced hooks of Everyone are joined to straight-ahead roil, propelled by Barrick's repeating-rifle attack. Leithauser's singing has matured, its echoes of Plant, Bono, and Yorke subsumed in a richly melodramatic growl closer to Bob Dylan or Rod Stewart, conveying a bruised, bruising, saloon-saint romanticism that seems both old and young for the band's years. The French Kicks and the M's open. Thursday, March 11, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anna Leithauser.