The Walkmen. Live at Central Methodist Hall, Manchester. 20/01/2011

Review by Peter Rea

The Walkmen (2/5)Many consider a visit to Manchester as a musically religious experience. The Walkmen must have that feeling too but for a different reason. The last time I saw them was in St. Philips Church in November. The old, ornate spiritual venue had made no special dispensation for housing a load of drunken atheists. It appeared as though the New York rock band had broken in, set up their gear and invited their mates.

Tonight’s venue has an old fashioned vibe too as I feel like I’m here to watch a school play. The wooden panelling is the most eye-catching feature of the décor, but a large screen on the back wall may or may not be hiding a stunning stained glass window. The venue’s proportions are ideal for this kind of gig.

Mona are playing as I enter the room, they sound very ‘Kings of Leon’ and produce a tepid response. The deep, bass heavy guitar sound is rattling the woodwork that’s normally subjected to Gospel. This caused a heavy distraction from their tunes.

The Walkmen sound fantastic. Shimmering rhythmic electric chords carry an air of optimism, blended with sentimental and poetic, almost ‘beat generation’ lyrics. Frontman Hamilton Leithhauser has a powerful, emotionally compelling voice that makes his lyrics linger in your head. The occasional warm crackle from the amps helps set the tone. The keyboard looks as though it’s been thrown down some stairs and the band name is crudely written on the kick drum using electrical tape. They’re not striving for polished digital perfection here.

Favourites ‘Angela Surf City’ from the latest album Lisbon and ‘In The New Year’ from You & Me appear early on and I’m wondering if they’ve peaked too early. Not so. The setlist has been skilfully crafted since November, where I left slightly disappointed. I stomp on the ground in time with my right foot to the extent of nearly giving myself a cramp.

The Walkmen (3/5)A decade’s worth of music is blended timelessly together as if written for the same album. They remind me of Bob Dylan, Interpol, The Strokes and Sonic Youth and I’m another who will claim they are underrated… but if it means I can keep seeing them at intimate gigs like this then they’re a secret best kept.

Touching melancholy songs such as ‘While I Shovel Snow’ raise the neck hairs, guitarist Paul Maroon waltz’s about the stage and Walter Martin takes a break from the organ to play the triangle. There’s respectful silence in the audience (apart from one guy who is singing his own tune) until the right time to show deservedly loud appreciation.

‘Victory’ and ‘All Hands and The Cook’ test Hamilton’s vocals to the limit but he never falters. How long can his voice box withstand producing this loud, controlled, raucous and mesmerising vocal? The latter part of his career may be spent sounding like Tom Waits, which would suit just fine.

Another favourite ‘The Rat’ appears in the three-tune encore, providing a highlight and giving the satisfied crowd some motivational and blood stirring lyrics to sing as they walk home, through the city, in the cold.

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