The Walkmen Drink Less, Play Well at CMJ

It’s incredibly hard to get excited about a band during a marathon of hip live music, especially if the band has already made four albums (which means they’re too old to be “discovered”), and especially if their last two albums were relatively weak, and especially if they’re playing for just 40 minutes in a half-empty frat-boy venue.

Despite all that, The Walkmen had an astounding show last night at Avalon on Sixth Avenue. Their music, almost all new, was drenched in Velvet Underground distortion but thumped like Talking Heads: Guitars jangled, the tectonic bass drum thwacked, handsome vocals howled, and pretty melodies echoed out of nowhere.

But the whole thing almost didn’t happen: “Do you have any idea where your band is?” the engineer said to the drummer, Matt Barrick, 12 minutes after the scheduled starting time.

“Yeah,” Mr. Barrick said back, “I just called them.”

Before the band’s eventual arrival, Mr. Barrick told The Observer that they’ve been drinking less as they get older. On the other hand, their show last night was wonderfully woozy, especially thanks to the band’s beautifully wobbling old organ. (And, for the record, frontman Hamilton Leithauser was drinking a beer onstage.)

Their opener was almost impossible to watch. When that band’s girl vocalist (backed by a pony-tailed bassist that looked like my high school choir teacher) asked people to sing along, I wrote in my little notebook: “Sounding like the worst song in a romantic comedy.” It was true. Mr. Barrick said that the opening band was involved in the Hugh Grant film “Music and Lyrics.” By comparison: The Walkmen’s last album was a song-by-song remake of Harry Nilsson’s 1974 drug-binge album “Pussy Cats.” Take that, Hugh Grant.

The Walkmen Drink Less, Play Well at CMJ