July 22, 2014 by Shane O'Connor
A band breaking up is something that you never want to see. Fans mourn what was lost and look to see who Yoko Ono’d the band they used to know and love. But in the case of The Walkmen, there was no breakup to be seen, no infighting to be reported. Instead, they amicably went on an “extreme hiatus.”
While we have no idea if and when that hiatus will end, we do know that solo projects from a few of the band members are coming out sooner or later. In the case of lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, it has definitely been sooner. Leithauser came to the Prince Music Theater’s Black Box July 12 while touring in support of his first solo album, “Black Hours.” Leithauser and his band delivered a strong performance in an extremely intimate setting.
The Prince Music Theater is neatly tucked away on Broad and Chestnut streets, right behind City Hall. It’s a venue with a classic feel that felt right in line with the throwback vibe of “Black Hours.” On the second floor, the Black Box lives up to its moniker: covered wall-to-wall in black and filled with no more than 75 or so black chairs, it felt like a place where someone might perform a one-act play.
The opening act, Torres, seemed a bit unsettled by the space at first as she played guitar and sang, backed only by a drummer. Playing songs such as “New Skin” and “Sprinter,” Torres gave a visibly impassioned performance that toed the line between haunting and beautiful.
A little after 9 p.m., Leithauser took the stage to a warm ovation with a four-man band that included his former Walkmen bandmate, guitarist Paul Maroon. The opening song, “5 AM,” set the tone for the evening, which begins with Leithauser crooning over a simple piano and string arrangement. This was followed by “The Silent Orchestra,” which slinks along and features Maroon on the marimbas.
While the backing music on either of these songs wouldn’t be out of place on an old Sinatra recording, Leithauser attacked the vocals in the same manner that he did as a member of The Walkmen. Delivering his trademark vocals while clutching the mic stand for support, Leithauser’s singing really stood out throughout the evening.
“Alexandria” is the big single off “Black Hours,” and it was surprising to hear it in the early stages of the hour-long set. Nevertheless, it had the Black Box rocking as crowd members sang along with Leithauser’s fervent cries of the song’s title lady. At first, Leithauser seemed upset at playing to such a small crowd, remarking, “It’s pretty vibey in here.” Who wouldn’t be when you used to play festivals and sold-out venues? But after singing the “shooby doo-wops” during “I Retired,” he looked to settle in for the rest of his set.
Maroon should also be noted for his stellar performance on guitar and the marimbas. While not nearly as an imposing stage presence as Leithauser, he was steady and precise the whole night.
While it was slightly disappointing not to hear Leithauser reprise any of The Walkmen’s songs, “Black Hours” supplied plenty of solid songs throughout the hour-long set, including the fantastic “I’ll Never Love Again” and “Smallest Splinter.” Returning on stage with a Corona in hand for the encore, Leithauser played one more song before calling it a night.
With more than a decade of touring under his belt, Leithauser is the consummate performer. Decked out in his trademark suit jacket, he made the Black Box his own and gave the crowd a great show. While he’ll always be a Walkman, Leithauser showed that he is definitely capable of making a solo career for himself.