Through every fault of my own, several years have lapsed since I was first acquainted with The Walkmen. The story of how I came to discover New York’s best kept secret is fairly dull, revolving entirely around Roddy Woomble’s decision to invite the band to support his own act (that act being the temporarily defunct Idlewild) on a tour of the British Isles. I witnessed one of those shows as a teenager, and I am still able to vividly recall the thought that circled my mind immediately afterwards: this band most definitely kick the shit out of The Star Spangles (who also supported Idlewild on that tour, but have thankfully never been seen or heard of again). I will also admit, however, that I have not remained particularly loyal to, or even interested in, The Walkmen in the years that have followed that initial introduction. Still, when I saw they were due to play in Brighton last week, I enjoyed every second of the nostalgia that followed; the band’s back catalogue took pride of place on my itunes for a good few days, anyway.
So obviously, I really like The Walkmen. ‘The Rat’ was a great song when I first heard it, and it remains a great song now. And played live at Concorde 2 last Thursday, it really did sound just as mesmerising as it did on that very first listen. No matter what way I look at it, it is, to me, tangible proof that the five-piece are capable of truly great things – just as the more recent ‘Donde Esta La Playa’ seems to confirm. What’s more, Hamilton Leithauser has a fantastic voice; the translation from record to live stage show loses none of the power and quality I have come to affiliate with the frontman. So standing amongst the transfixed crowd down on Madeira Drive last week, it was certainly clear in my mind why exactly The Walkmen are still going reasonably strong, while their one-time touring associates remain without a record label – for the time being, at least.
Halfway through The Walkmen’s set, I impulsively leap towards the conclusion that this band aren’t totally dissimilar to, say, The Strokes. Odd, given that I was never really a fan of Julian Casablancas et al – but the similarities are there all the same. What sets The Walkmen apart from their counterparts, however, is an integrity you’ll never find on a Strokes record, no matter how desperately you search for it. That said, one of my only criticisms of this band is perhaps their over-reliance on a sound which grows tiresome quickly; while the show last week didn’t drag, I wasn’t left yearning for more either. This, coupled with the permanently muted reactions of the audience, meant the atmosphere in the venue was capped at the bare minimum at all times – and I was content enough to walk away from the show deeming it just ‘alright’.
It’s a shame, considering the beautiful potential The Walkmen exuberate. Don’t get me wrong; I am very fond of this band, and I’d never be opposed to going along to see them live, but it feels as though they teeter on the border between listenable and magnificent far too frequently to become a firm favourite. They’re definitely ones to watch though, so I implore you not to make the same mistake I did when I first came across them. Keep tabs on them for a while yet, and they may just blossom into something tremendous.