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The Walkmen Steal The Spotlight

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I expected the Chipotle Cultivate Festival might be either a crowded, corporate fairground (a la Coachella). I also dreaded it might be a sparsely populated tent city with desperate food reps calling out to skittish passers-by, a perception brought to you by a regrettable summer working at the Mall of America, grimacing out at an empty formica courtyard.

Instead, I found it to be a pretty balanced environment. There was kitsch (the chef demonstration tent), yes. But there were also innovative "experience" kiosks to drive home issues of sustainability and natural foods, backed up by representatives from California farms. The branding was solid and effective, but unobtrusive.

I was able to focus on the many small business in the Artisan Hall - 4505 Meats being the unchallenged favorite, followed by Handsome Coffee Roasters (L.A. sure does love those heraldic X-based logos) - without feeling like Chipotle was breathing down their our necks. A benevolent overlord, seated in a golden, locally-produced Burrito Bowl throne. It was all a stunt, of course, but it was agreeably done and in good faith; perhaps these partnerships with small-scale and fledgling businesses will keep Chipotle honest.

The music itself spanned a good range of genres. Grandiose folk from Matt Costa, the groovy falsetto soul of Mayer Hawthorne. Getting to see fellow Kenyon College alum Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon hounded by a mob of trilling, facepainted young ladies was pretty funny. The highlight, however, goes to the Walkmen.

I admit, I discovered them late in the game - January of this year. I had just arrived back in San Francisco after a month-long trip to the wintry Northwest and then New York City. It was sunny, 70, the smells of Eucalyptus and Monterey Cyprus suspended pervasive in crisp air. While I'm at it, let's intensify the cliché: I was also falling in love and had just quit grad school after one stifling term. "Wake Up," a triumphantly discordant song from their first album, propelled me along with new possibilities swirling in those first weeks.

Heaven, the Walkmen's latest release, is a magnetically good listen. I found it especially perfect to accompany finding yourself free of commitments and full of feeling. Its an album with "a thousand affecting variations on contented hum," to quote Pitchfork. But the music is laced by a latent, vibrating potentiality, something confidently more aleatory than quiet eternity.

From "Wake Up" to "Heaven," a song from the album of the same name, 10 years and a lot of maturing passed for Hamilton Leithauser and the rest of the band. There's a similar sort of soaring, bold entreaty going on in both songs, but in "Heaven," the chord progression is sanguine and deftly, nimbly performed; less frenetic in pace and style, more languor. Their show on this particular afternoon was professional, self-assured, and, with the exception of when Leithauser got Too Stoked and knocked over the mic stand, flawless. At one point, he even spoke a few calm words about the onset of fatherhood and the settled life, as a girl in the front row with frosted dreads and a spliff hanging off her lip scoffed loudly. Assured indeed.

At the end, as the band fluidly drew out the last measures of the song into minutes, I had the strange and wonderful sensation of just setting out on my career, directly in front of another artist ascendant in his. I read a quote by G.K. Chesterson today: "Poetry is sane because it floats so easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion... To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits." In making Heaven, the Walkmen haven't reached a placid end, but rather an opened world into which to run, lope, unfalteringly.

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