30th October 2012
Halfway through tonight’s triumphant set, The Walkmen’s vocalist, Hamilton Leithauser, pauses to regale his audience with the sad tale of their first visit to Manchester. “They didn’t want us to play”, he tells us, recalling how they ended their brief visit on the Curry Mile. In another frontman’s hands, this anecdote might have formed part of a then-and-now victory lap, but as Leithauser darkly quips later on that tickets for tonight were going for a tenner outside, one gets the sense that little has changed for the band in his view.
The Walkmen are a band who have had to fight to play venues of this size, and they sound like it. A shaky opening salvo of songs from their latest album, Heaven, seemed to confirm rumours that they were unpredictable live, with Leithauser’s ill-timed vocals jarring against his restrained rhythm section. Fortunately, by the time ‘Angela Surf City’, the rousing lead single from previous album Lisbon kicked in, the ever-modest singer was firmly in control of his material, caterwauling into the microphone while looking resplendent in his aristocratic-Brooklynite attire.
Strangely for a tour promoting new material, the songs from the band’s last two albums sounded more rehearsed. Whilst the dense arrangements of ‘Blue As Your Blood’ and ‘Red Moon’ were sometimes a difficult listen on record, they became bona fide anthems tonight, with Paul Maroon’s ornate guitar lines allowed to unspool at their own pace as Peter Bauer’s organ thrummed around the room. Yet there were also signs that the new songs are catching on: Heaven highlight ‘We Can’t Be Beat’ got one of the biggest singalongs of the night. There’s something quite fitting about this for a band who are as nostalgia-tinged The Walkmen, whose lyrics borrow heavily from jazz age literature to describe twenty-something angst.
Constantly evolving their stately sound while refining the vitriol of their early work, The Walkmen beat on, slowly carving themselves a niche as one of the best US bands of their generation. Their progress on this gradual trajectory was neatly demonstrated by Leithauser’s decision to exit through the crowd. Gently mobbed by shocked fans wishing to shake his hand, he left grinning, confident that he wouldn’t be returning to the Curry Mile any time soon.