- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

Before The Walkmen relocated to New York City, the band’s five members called the District their home. “It was a great place to grow up,” says drummer Matt Barrick, who attended St. Albans School with three members of the band. The aspiring musicians fell in love with the District’s independent punk scene, particularly those bands affiliated with the local Dischord Records label.

“We were able to see bands like Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses when we were thirteen years old,” Mr. Barrick remembers. “People really welcomed young musicians. My high school band was able to open for both of those Dischord groups, despite the fact that we were godawful.”

As the St. Albans students grew older, their musical tastes became more varied. At the age of 16, Mr. Barrick snuck into a Max Roach show at D.C. Space, an F Street Northwest venue that frequently housed punk bands and avant-garde artists. Mr. Roach’s adventurous, unpredictable approach to percussion was an inspiration to the young drummer.

D.C. Space has long since closed its doors, and the Walkmen have decamped permanently to the Big Apple. Nevertheless, the band’s D.C. upbringing has wired itself into the foundation of the Walkmen’s sound.

Atmospheric and textured, the Walkmen’s music cannot be classified as punk. Pianos figure prominently, as do occasional swells of strings and trumpet. Yet the band’s compositions are still volatile, often flitting between dreamy, lush balladry and loud onslaughts of guitar. That volatility owes its vigor to Dischord Records, while the band’s ability to evoke the romantic energy of a city is similar to jazz.

“You & Me,” the band’s latest release, pays particular attention to textures and moods. Songs including “Donde Esta La Playa” are peppered with the breezy sounds of the beach, and “Red Moon” conjures up some Latin romance with acoustic guitars and brass. The result is an album that’s at once beautiful and hauntingly lonely despite the warm locations it evokes.

“I don’t know if any place in particular directly influenced our songwriting,” Mr. Barrick says of the record, which was released in mid-August. “Perhaps the many dark days we have spent in the triangular mass of land between Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit have taken their toll.”

This month, the band returns to its former stomping grounds with a show at the 9:30 Club on Saturday. A junior high incarnation of the Walkmen played its first show at the 9:30 Club’s original location, and Mr. Barrick anticipates another solid performance at the expanded venue.

Doors open at 6:30 Saturday, tickets cost $15, and the New York klezmer band Golem will open the show.

The Kooks take on America

It’s been a quick trip to the top for The Kooks, although the band’s ascent is not yet complete.

The Kooks formed in 2004, while the band’s four members were attending the Brighton Institute of Modern Music in England. Led by singer Luke Pritchard, the British teenagers took inspiration from a number of older artists. The Kinks informed their sense of melody, while an old David Bowie song provided the band’s name.

Within a year’s time, they had amassed a number of succinct songs that combined rock ‘n’ roll’s swagger with memorable pop melodies. The mixture was enough to win over Virgin Records, which signed the group in 2005 and issued the debut album, “Inside In/Inside Out,” the following year.

The Kooks have since become international stars. “Konk,” the band’s most recent release, cracked the Top 10 in multiple countries, including England, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. Conspicuously absent from that list is America, a notoriously difficult market to penetrate.

“Konk,” with its saucy lyrics and sonic allusions to the Kinks, enjoyed a modest reception in the United States but failed to generate overwhelming sales. It’s a classic curse for many foreign bands whose fame in Europe fails to replicate itself across the Atlantic.

The Kooks want to break that curse. Having fine-tuned their live act by performing at some of the biggest musical festivals in Europe, the Brighton natives are unleashing their stadium-sized rock on smaller American clubs.

“We did the West Coast this summer, which was ace,” says drummer Paul Garred.

Having recently turned 23 years old, Mr. Garred strikes a balance between youthful excitement and adult dedication. The same combination fuels his band’s music, and it helps keep the Kooks focused on their craft without eradicating the fun therein.

Following the band’s West Coast tour and a handful of Australian dates, the Kooks will return to the United States. First up is a stop at the 9:30 Club on Monday, followed by performances spanning the length of the Eastern seaboard. Afterward, the Kooks will head to Japan, France, Germany and the Netherlands before arriving home in late November.

“The audience was amazing last time,” Mr. Garred says of the Kooks’ previous show at the 9:30 Club. “We can’t wait to revisit it.”

The Kooks’ performance at the 9:30 Club on Monday is sold out. Doors open at 7 p.m., and Illinois will open the show.

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