The first time I saw The Walkmen perform live was two and a half years ago, when they played to a beer-soaked crowd of students at my university. Since then, they’ve released two full length albums, the most recent of which, Heaven, is a delightful and decidedly grown-up collection of mid-tempo songs that proves they’re worthy of more than an American college tour. There is certainly nothing collegiate about The Walkmen’s sold-out performance at The Village Underground tonight.
Laconic frontman Hamilton Leithauser doesn’t waste any time trying to charm the audience in between songs with a crack about how the horn players that accompany them when they play London are always drunk by the end of the show. His particularly reserved and ever so slightly sever manner though thankfully means the crowd hasn’t come to hear him tell jokes, they have come to listen to an established indie band fresh from the release of possibly the most critically acclaimed album from a decade-long career. The Walkmen happily oblige, beginning proceedings with ‘Line by Line,’ a slow jam which is typical of the new albums’ more adult sound. Next up is a brief trip into 2008 with You & Me featured track ‘On the Water,’ before they return to their new material, playing folksy number ‘Love is Luck’ and ‘Heartbreaker’; Leithauser’s anthemic crooning turning it into a floor-filler.
Joined by the three-piece horn section (assumedly still sober at this point) for ‘Stranded’ and ‘Red Moon’, the first half of The Walkmen’s set, brought to an end by the incredible percussion of recent title track, focuses primarily on Heaven featured material and is surprisingly upbeat considering many of their songs focus on the experiences of loneliness and heartbreak. The second half caters to those whom Leithauser called the “the old-timers,” and includes more songs from their back catalogue. Particularly stunning were ‘Louisiana’ from 2006’s 100 Miles Off, and the haunting ballads of ‘Canadian Girl’ and ‘I Lost You’ from You & Me.
Ending the night somewhat predictably and gloriously with classic crowd favourite ‘The Rat,’ which as one of their earliest tunes sounds little like the others in their catalogue, they remind the audience of just how far they’ve come.