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The Walkmen @ ULU, London – 28 October

The Walkmen @ ULU, London – 28 October

by   (Google+), 02 November 2008

The Walkmen, as anyone who has heard their Christmas Party EP or the track ‘In The New Year’ from their new album will testify, are a band well-suited to the cold, dark winter months.  Their music has a dense, claustrophobic quality which is far better suited to dim and dingy venues than it would be to, say, a Summer festival stage.  I mention this because shortly before they take the stage, thick, heavy snow  begins to fall outside, the first time that it has fallen in London during October for 73 years. Despite being a fan for several years this is the first time I have managed to catch them live and I initially double-take at the appearance of their singer, Hamilton Leithauser (there seems to be a law these days that all musicians from New York must have improbable names).  From his voice I had imagined someone dark-haired and world-weary, instead I find myself looking at the blonde, grinning doppelgänger of Larry Wilcox from CHiPs.  And when his microphone fails to work during the opening moments, as the guitarist picks out the chords of ‘New Country’, the possibility that I am looking at an impostor begins to fester.  But all doubts are dispelled when the sound finally kicks in - to the audible relief and delight of the audience - and that uniquely high-pitched, rasping drawl rings out. The set is drawn largely from their latest album, You & Me.  Trumpet and trombone featured heavily on several of its songs and so, for tonight’s show only, the first of a six-date tour of the UK and Ireland, they have recruited a trio of local musicians to form a brass section.  They perform admirably, to the extent that one is left wondering how those songs will cope without them on the remainder of the shows, and if they come across as slightly faltering or under-rehearsed at times this only serves to compliment the agreeably ramshackle and discordant Walkmen sound. Highlights of the set include the aforementioned ‘In The New Year’ alongside ‘Dónde Está la Playa’, ‘Red Moon’, ‘Lost In Boston’ and new single ‘The Blue Route’.  The band are not the most animated of performers and so, naturally, the focus is all on the frontman – aided by a beautifully lit stage courtesy of a tattooed bloke with a stick who spent an age beforehand adjusting each of the spotlights just so.  With sad inevitability, ‘The Rat’ gets by far the most boisterous reception, although it pales in comparison to much of the newer material, particularly the magnificent set-closer ‘I Lost You’ (greeted with just a faint smattering of applause).  A brief encore concludes with ‘Louisiana’, sending us out into the cold evening with the mariachi trumpets ringing in our ears.

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