Bringing joy to despair

With seven studio albums and over a decade in the business, The Walkmen are veterans of the indie world. Hailing from New York yet breaking free of the scenester labeling and comparisons to the likes of The Strokes they are here tonight at London’s HMV Forum in the wake of this summer’s much acclaimed offering ‘Heaven’.

The Walkmen certainly don’t look very rock ‘n’ roll with front man Hamilton Leithauser in his trademark neutral toned loose fitting suite. He could be easily going to a PTA meeting, but when he opens his mouth, there is no question of whether he belongs here, he has a pitch perfect distinctive voice, ideally suited for belting out emotionally charged songs, melancholy and heartbreak being the theme for most, with a little disappointment, resentment and regret thrown in for good measure.

Kicking off with ‘Heartbreaker’ sets the tempo thumping, the drums rage out as Leithauser spits out the lament “I’m not your heartbreaker, these are the good years the best we’ll ever know”. They ooze quality and the bar is set high. Tonight isn’t all about ‘Heaven’ though and they set about throwing out classics from their full back catalogue. ‘We Can’t Be Beat’ and ‘In the New Year’ being particular highlights.

Their music has a vintage feel, rooted in garage rock but leaning strongly towards ‘50s doo-wop with Roy Orbison style crooning, a glorious mix of tinkery piano and pulsating guitars. This is all nicely demonstrated on ‘Blue as your Blood’ which gets the crowd pumped and soon enough they are baying for ‘The Rat’. Now over eight years old this is one song that refuses to fade away; it remains their anthem, whether they like it or not. Its frantic pace and raw emotion harks back to a younger, edgier sound they have moved on from, yet it still feels fresh. It is a crowd pleaser and is going down a storm.

Unfortunately after a high can often come a low, and the atmosphere here has changed, maybe it’s just where we’re standing, but the vibe has turned dark and soon enough a fight breaks out. Security quickly deals with it, no one appears hurt, and it’s all soon forgotten. By the time they get to ‘Juveniles’ everyone is happily bouncing around once more. And the rest of the set is all about good music. It’s professionalism all the way; they are convincing and self-assured without being whiny. They bring a certain joy to despair and after a two-song encore, Leithauser defies the critics who say he is no longer rock ‘n’ roll, and exits stage front, fearlessly leaving through a boisterous and somewhat surprised crowd. Well it’s one way to close the night.


Words by Vanessa Higgins

Photos by Rachel Lipsitz


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