The resplendent return to the UK of the best band you’ve possibly never heard of, and RGM’s Shari Denson was there to report back.
It’s a strange world, the music industry, isn’t it? The charts seem to forever be brimming with mediocrity, arenas selling out tickets for artists many of us can’t tell apart. What makes a band from the US break through over here in the UK? It’s a complete mystery…hence why I wonder why The Walkmen, formed in Harlem, NYC in 2000 are a bit of a well kept secret.
Maybe because mediocrity is something that doesn’t apply to them, and accessibility was not the name of their first album. The title was in fact ‘Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone’ which was met with true critical acclaim rather than the more commercial success of some of their peers. I was lucky to see them just after its release in 2002 supporting Idlewild, at Sheffield Octagon. To say I was blown away was an understatement. They harnessed a sense of urgency, armed with songs that harked back to the 50’s whilst being so of the moment too.
Singer Hamilton Leithauser cut a magnificent figure on stage – and what a voice. With a range most crooners would kill for, yet a Dylan-esque delivery at times, he is both ferocious and awe-inspiring. The Walkmen released 6 quite different studio albums in total before going on ‘an extreme hiatus’ in 2013.
Since then members have released solo work, and collaborated with others (and each other) which has been fantastic, but we have missed The Walkmen. Fast forward 10 years since they dis-banded, and I find myself all giddy, at a new venue on the outskirts of Leeds called Project House. A joint venture between the folk behind Brudenell Social Club and others, it’s a fresh, inviting, 1000 capacity space with food on offer and lots of outdoor seating, that will host cultural events such as gigs, exhibitions, and markets.
I like it, and so it seems does everyone else in attendance. The atmosphere is friendly, and relaxed, and having already hosted the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, tonight’s class act and soon to host The Murder Capital, they’re already set to be a go-to venue for many a great gig.
So, The Rat – as wonderful as it is, has maybe been their achilles’ heel. Named 13th best track of the 2000’s by NME, and lauded by the music press, it perhaps gave a false impression of the overall output of the band which is incredibly varied, and the song perhaps has overshadowed some absolutely stunning songs from their brilliant body of work.
Luckily, we are being given a second chance to really show this band the love and appreciation they have always deserved. Opener ‘Donde Esta la Playa’ sets the scene; dark, beefy drums, searing guitar and Leithauser’s voice sounding as magnificent as ever. The band are sounding outrageously good, the venue is great and all is right in the world for approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.
The Walkmen treat us to 15 songs from their oeuvre, including the gorgeous Red Moon, a song that always makes me want to be waltzed around the room. Another favourite, Canadian Girl, drives home just how hard it is to pigeonhole The Walkmen. Influences from the 50’s such as Del Shannon and Elvis, Jerry-Lee Lewis can be heard here. Then the anarchic Angela Surf City still with it’s roots in rock and roll but ramping up the abandon brings us up again.
Little House of Savages, from Bows and Arrows, satisfies that heavy drum, bass, guitar indie rock anthem panchant before finishing their main set with the beautifully melodic yet poignant ‘Heaven’ when I feel the tears coming…’Don’t leave me, you’re my best friend. All of my life, you’ve always been… remember, remember….all we fight for’. To hear this played live is just magical.
The band are in fine spirits, with Hamilton introducing all the members, telling tales from their travels, and taking requests from the audience for the first track of the encore. They settled on Louisiana, an absolute gem of a track, reminiscent of some of the tracks from Dylan’s album Desire.
Lastly, we are treated to the first song The Walkmen ever wrote together, the song that made them want to really give it a go together as band, and it seems fitting that they would end with ‘We’ve Been Had’ tonight. A song that really sums up exactly what The Walkmen are about. Beautiful tinkling piano, melodic and often understated guitar, melancholy, sometimes satirical, lyrics. We see guitarist Paul Maroon and keyboardist Peter Bauer swap instruments for this one, a little reminder that the band members are actually multi- instrumentalists and talented ones at that.
I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience is hoping and praying they don’t leave it another 10 years to return. Well, this is ‘The Revenge Tour’ – maybe a nod to the lack of industry support they had in the past, maybe a hint at a new album title? I cant lie, I’m kind of hoping it’s both. If you haven’t caught them yet, The Walkmen play New Century Hall In Manchester on Saturday 26th August followed Bristol on Sunday 27th , and finishing off with 3 nights at Koko in London next week 29th , 30th and 31st August.