- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

“Every time I go home now, it seems so small; nothing’s going on there,” says Hamilton Leithauser, frontman of the Walkmen, talking on a cellular phone on the set of CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn.”

He’s referring to the District, but don’t take it personally. He’s a New Yorker now; the feeling is understandable.

Mr. Leithauser and his four band mates, each of whom grew up here — he and cousin Walter Martin, the band’s organist, lived across the street from one another in Cleveland Park — have adopted New York City as their home base, joining an increasingly crowded scene of alt-rock bands.

The Strokes, the Rapture, Interpol, Longwave, Radio 4: The list is long and buzzy, and Mr. Leithauser isn’t crazy about being included on it.

“There are unwelcome comparisons,” Mr. Leithauser says.

The comparisons haven’t hurt yet; the band’s recently released “Bows and Arrows” is already being laureled in the rock press as one of the best albums of a young year.

Honestly, he says, the band, a merger of D.C. bands Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Latebreakers, doesn’t traffic much in New York’s indie-rock scene, which is concentrated in Lower Manhattan. The Walkmen are ensconced in Harlem, where they write and record in a converted car factory on East 133rd Street.

At 900 square feet, the space is big for a New York apartment, and it offers the band a unique aesthetic vibe.

Much songwriting is done there, but Mr. Leithauser says the band — which also includes guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick and bassist Peter Bauer — has exacting standards on what to keep and what to discard. “It’s tough for us to come up with stuff we like,” he says.

The sessions that produced “Bows and Arrows” were the best yet for the band, thanks to the relentless touring schedule that preceded it.

“When we did the first record, we had never played live before. It was like an experimental studio record,” Mr. Leithauser says.

He doesn’t expect other Manhattan bands to migrate northward to Harlem; neither does he buy the hype about a Harlem Renaissance.

Recently, a Starbucks cafe — usually the bellwether of neighborhood gentrification — opened a few blocks from the Walkmen’s recording loft. “But nothing came ever of it,” Mr. Leithauser says.

He’s looking forward to returning to Washington, if only to play the 9:30 Club. It’ll be proof that he has graduated from such venues as the Grog and Tankard, which he played with the Latebreakers.

While Mr. Martin was playing with the Stewart Lupton-fronted Fire*Eaters, Mr. Leithauser was sending tapes to the 9:30 Club. “They never let us play there,” he says.

Tonight’s a different story and, he hopes, more of the same. With each gig the band has played, he explains, attendance numbers have climbed appreciably.

“Every time we’ve been somewhere and we come back, there are more.”

WHAT: The Walkmen, with Weird War and the National

WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW

WHEN: Tonight at 7:30

TICKETS: $12

PHONE: 202/393-0930

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