The Walkmen
Scala, London
20th February 2009

While they are most certainly welcomed, perhaps even loved, as a band, The Walkmen are quickly becoming as anachronistic as their name. Coming onstage to an enthusiastic response, The Walkmen began the set as if they were trying on a new suit. They didn’t tear into it with a devil-be-damned-if-I-break-a-few-seams blaze of glory, in fact it was a relaxed all-in-good-time easing into “Donde Esta la Playa” (“Where is the Beach?) from their most recent album You And Me, a loping moody waltz that makes you sullen and estranged by default.

This isn’t a particularly new move for The Walkmen. The rhapsodic, almost lullaby-esque aspect to their music was on display right from the beginning, but they played to both sides, invoking the same parlour tricks of their previous incarnations, Jonathan Fire-Eater and The Recoys, whilst tempering their sound with some burnt-out 60’s torch songs. It’s been a long, interesting ride for the band since their formation in 2000, only made richer for that brief moment in the spotlight when their almost-hit “The Rat” ravaged the airwaves in 2004, lifting The Walkmen into the public eye, only to lose the momentum with their follow-up album A Hundred Miles Off two years later.

The Walkmen of today are more jaded troubadours with hangovers than modern rock musicians out to settle a score. Their songs would find a better audience amongst drunks and drifters than a Friday night London crowd, but there were enough drunks and drifters in attendance to subscribe to the experience and identify with Hamilton Leithauser’s Dylan-esque croon and bitter reminiscences. The funeral pace of their current set, weighing heavy on the latest album, belies their past, recalling a time seeing those boys when they were runts, peddling white labels of their debut EP, trying out their new guise as if they were playing on hot coals, but that was nearly a decade ago, and I can forgive a kind of old-age creep coming into the material, but there’s a point in the set where I had to ask myself “didn’t they already play this one?”.

The addition of a brass three-piece enhanced the set significantly, giving  “Louisiana” a carnival warmth, as too “Canadian Girl” and “Red Moon” two tracks from You And Me that blossomed from the extra hands on deck. Old tunes were a scarcity with “Wake Up” from their debut given a dusting down and audience favourite “The Rat”, dedicated to the people of Fierce Panda who’s 15th birthday party this event was for, which saw The Walkmen at their most volatile, Leithauser bent backwards, howling at the ceiling. Whilst creating a mood and sticking to it for most of the set, it’s a shame the band don’t allow more room for that same urgency to strengthen their grip on the crowd.

The final encore of “Thinking of A Dream I Had” from Bows + Arrows turned things around, starting off as if the band were about to launch into a blistering version of the Stone’s “Paint It Black”, with bassist Pete Bauer and drummer Matt Barrick locked in an intense build-up that saw the rest of the band jump in, laying waste to the original and shaking the foundations enough to shake off our lethargy with it.