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After the bombastic, yet dour attempts of Tennessee support act ‘Mona’ to set a new world record for the band sounding most like Kings Of Leon, the arrival of the Walkmen at a packed Trinity Centre is timely and refreshing. While their predecessors traded in sizeable, polished and bland anthems devoid of light and shade, the New York/Philadelphia five-piece exude an understated, weathered blue-collar class. Arriving with little fanfare, to a humble stage set-up, they’re an unusual looking bunch of misfits, quite at odds with the icy cool New York image their music evokes. Bean-pole singer Hamilton Leithauser paces the stage in a black suit jacket and open-necked shirt, while his instrument-swapping band mates are all rolled-up sleeves, jeans and work boots.
They get under way with the ethereal organ chords and darting crash cymbal opening of ‘Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone’ from their 2002 debut album of the same name and immediately have a capacity audience firmly onside. Second song ‘Angela Surf City’ a stand-out track from ‘Lisbon’, released last September, sees Leithauser begin to hop on one, bandy leg, a pose he oddly returns to throughout the evening. His neck muscles strain as he roars out the chorus over manically clattering toms and thin, trebly, guitars. An unlikely hero, he appears consumed with fizzing, nervous energy, hidden behind a disarming boyish smile. The band’s rolled-up sleeves, under-rehearsed D.I.Y attitude is endearing as they continue to pluck songs from throughout their discography. ‘In The New Year’ and ‘ 138th Street’ follow – the latter gently teased out from Leithauser’s battered Fender Jazzmaster with assured patience. They return almost exclusively to ‘Lisbon’ for the second half of the set, firstly with the finger-picked ‘Blue as Your Blood’, and then ‘Victory’, which builds steadily on stabbing, tremolo-heavy guitar chords before yielding to a luscious crescendo roared out triumphantly, in Leithauser’s leathery, hoarse tones. ‘While I Shovel The Snow’ is a tender, beautiful lullaby, with guitarist Paul Maroon somehow producing a sound uncannily like a grand piano from his Rickenbacker. The pace is then picked up through ‘Woe Is Me’ before ‘Juveniles’ is absolutely torn through, Leithauser by now sounding richly commanding and urgent. They return for a widely-demanded encore, and delve back into their vault to produce the metronomic snare-heavy ‘Little House of Savages’ and their grand anomaly ‘The Rat’ – surely one of the finest underground guitar songs of the past decade. Standing alone from the patient elegance of the rest of their six albums of material, tonight it is as furious and visceral as when recorded for ‘Bows and Arrows’ in 2004. Powered along by dizzyingly quick drumming by Matt Barrick and that insistent wave of shimmering guitar, the song is devoured with an appetite that defies the hundreds of times they must have delivered it over the past six and a half years. At its conclusion, Leithauser and co throw down their instruments and leave, deservedly, to a sustained and appreciative ovation.

Words: Gary Walker
Photo: Steve Palmer