The Walkmen - Leeds University Stylus - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

The Walkmen - Leeds University Stylus

by Amy Putman Rating:10 Release Date:2013-04-08

The Walkmen's latest album is called Heaven and, judging by their Live at Leeds performance, they live up to such an ostentatious name, whether they intended it to be tongue-in-cheek or not. It's my version of Heaven anyway. I've never really been into the idea of sitting calmly on a cloud, surrounded by smug harpists and feathery dames with communion wine.

Until now I've always thought Valhalla sounded like more fun, I mean there's the fighting, the drinking, the hot-assed valkyries... the maiming... Sure, you might get your head lopped off early on in the match but then you just go and sit on the sidelines and lounge about waiting for resurrection and a massive roast dinner. It's the dream weekend, without all the niggly workdays in between. And after years of living the sweet life of an elite warrior, all you have to do in return is try to save the world. It's the only way to reach god level on anything.

Valhalla is still a pretty sweet concept but I want to make an amendment to jigsaw in my only constant lover: rock music. Let's chuck out the battle horns and traditional songs and get in some proper bands to follow the feasting. Let's have them play in a sweaty underground split-level so that wherever you stand you can see every detail; you can practically feel the band breathe. Let's make sure one of those bands is The Walkmen. I'm telling you, man, it's the only way to make it perfect. It's the only way for it to be my Nirvana, my Shangri-la, my Heaven.

Picture the scene as I describe the opening of the gig. Thick clouds of smoke hang across the stage like morning mist. Four massive amber lamps are set at waist height. They flash gently through the vapour and then beam softly as the band enter. The lights set the smoke aglow so the performers are simply shifting grey shadows, silhouettes in the dawn.

One of them comes a little closer to stand by the thin black stripe that is the mic stand. As the music begins, more smoke billows and the band are lost and found again. The fog drifts a little, revealing the shadows of the singer's face, head just above the densest part as his voice suddenly pierces the crowd like a ray of sun in a renaissance painting, dancing through their minds and swelling to fill the room.

It was revelatory, sublime. Like the shaft of light in the gloom, it offered a glimpse of something otherworldly. This was a moment that has been engraved into my memory for life. This felt like an epic minute of music history. This was Led Zeppelin at the Sydney Showground opening with 'Immigrant Song'. I shivered with pleasure. My hair stood on end. I swelled with the feeling of experiencing true beauty even as my mind crashed with astonishment in the face of the enormity of it all.

By the third song the smoke had drifted so you could see their upper bodies in the gloom. The glow of the golden backlight and the black of the set made it feel like an old fashioned, cigar-fuelled music club; somewhere people expect you to have a martini. It felt intimate without being exclusive and was the ideal backdrop to foreground their talent. The music was the main feature and there was no mistaking that it was the crux of the show. This wasn't about cheap tricks; this was about craft.

The Walkmen are usually described as indie-rock but their sound is both harder and rockier than is generally associated with indie, and has more than a tinge of folk about the vocal style. At the same time, they are wittier and more stylish than most folk rock bands, and much more contemporary. I guess if I had to, I'd just simplify it and step away from the pigeonholes and just say that they ride the slipstream of rock. They are rock and they rock. This is rock music.

With barely any movement, The Walkmen still thoroughly rock out. They don't need flashy dances or complicated costumes; they simply are, and what they are is awesome. Like the jazz singers in those shady, smoky bars I was imagining, they exude effortless cool. They also command respect and attention without needing to be angry or loud. Their quality speaks for itself.

I feel privileged to have seen them live. This is the kind of performance that creates its own weather system, crackling with electric energy. That voice - oh, the voice. When soaring it fills the room like a physical force; when quiet it holds everyone still and breathless, straining to ensure they absorb every facet of every second. It has an utterly unique quality: a timbre almost buzzing yet never nasal; a peculiar resonance which feels like it is not just passing through you but filling you up, swirling round your brain and rewriting your soul.

It is magical in the true sense, rather than the complimentary; I've no idea what spell it weaves but it has its own presence; a living creature of richness and force emanating from a seemingly modest, if not bashful, man whose speaking voice is soft and burring. The songs washed across the room like waves, filling the void and smashing a return against the crowd's backs. It was full and visceral, a bodily rather than aural experience.

At the same time it never sounded forced or overblown. There was a pleasant graininess that kept it in the world of rock and a few moments of dropping into almost-speech which added to the expressive element. Mostly, though, it had the kind of eye-boggling, jaw-dropping ability that is as rare as snow leopards. It drew everyone into complete absorption instantly and kept them hooked until the last breath.

I don't mean to make it sound as though Hamilton Leithauser's voice is what makes them great, or to imply that it stands alone. For a band to work at all, let alone rock out, every element must be equally excellent, otherwise it sounds unbalanced and messy. These musicians are not any more here to frame the singer than they would be to prop him up.

It's hard to pick out any particular element, but that in itself it a compliment to their immensely gifted composition, incredible talent, and well-put-together set. I did notice some rocking percussion and some awesome keyboard, but the guitar riffs held everything together and added the main body of the tune. I think, in a weird way, they didn't stand out purely because they were so consistently good, and as an aside I think it's awesome to find guitar players who don't want to grandstand.

Basically, this gig kept me wordlessly captivated and barely breathing in awe until the edge of decay of the final note on the last song. I would have watched them for hours, for days if I had the chance. They gave their all to the performance and it paid off. At one point Leithauser kept such a long, strong note that he actually fell off the stage at the end of it from sheer bodily exhaustion. He kept nothing back and still crawled up and finished the song.

There was no posing and no ego. They were there for the music and that is all. They were music's servants just as we are their fans. You can't say that about many bands but it is the best direction a live gig can take. This was the only gig all day in which someone crowd-surfed and The Walkmen deserved it.

Like vikings, the Leeds crowd responded to the music-racked men with the traditional displays of boisterous approval and admiration, if not adoration. They sprayed drinks and batted inflated condoms around the room. The Walkmen seemed a bit confused by the latter but took it in good humour, biting into it to burst it and carrying on.

All I can say is that they'd better prepare themselves for horns of mead and roars of joy because if I have my way they're coming to Valhalla, like it or not. I just can't spend eternity with memory alone, however busty the valkyries are.

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Don't even know what to expect. Will it live up to its hype?

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Well, if previous form is anything to go by, it's best not to have too many expectations, just because it could be anything. We won't know till we hear it.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The tracklist does look a lot like Analord/Druqks-type headgames though.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Definitely. In fact, it looks like he's gone even more down that road. But hey - maybe they'll all be three minute EDM bangarz!

There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles
The Walkmen - Leeds University Stylus - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab
The Antlers - Hospice
  • 02/19/2019
  • By Tim Sentz
The Walkmen - Leeds University Stylus - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab
The Walkmen - Heaven
  • 06/07/2012
  • By Steve Reynolds