The Walkmen are no strangers to Vicar Street. We caught them on their last visit during their Heaven tour. This show was noted for its muted energy and an over-reliance on material from their later years.
This would ultimately prove to be their last, as they band quietly entered an “extreme hiatus”. In the intervening years, the band would busy themselves with other projects. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser would release a quartet of studio albums, most memorably ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’ with ex-Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam. Organist Walter Martin and bassist Peter Bauer would also release solo albums, Bauer’s third ‘Flowers’ co-produced by drummer Matt Barrick.
Rumblings of a reunion started as early as 2020 when Leithauser posted in a Reddit AMA that “stranger things are happening every 15 minutes right now… so you never know.” The announcement finally came in November of last year as a welcome surprise. While they never reached the lofty heights of some of their other peers in the New York scene as heralded in the ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ oral history, the band were always critical darlings in their own right.
The Walkmen’s sound could always be described as having an old soul. Maybe it’s the reliance on horns, pianos and organs. Maybe it’s Leithauser’s impassioned croon, sharing more in common with Roy Orbison and Otis Redding than Lou Reed or Ian Curtis. Their music has always been imbued with a sense of warmth and authenticity than their more popular contemporaries.
Fitting then that they would play to a noticeably older crowd at Vicar Street this time around. Opening act Almost Nothing, the new genre-bending brainchild of former Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble, struggled to make inroads with a crowd that clearly only had eyes for the returning prodigal sons.
Opening with What’s In It For Me, The Walkmen wasted no time jumping into their more jagged material, segueing seamlessly into Wake Up and semi-hit The Rat. While at first hampered only by some mild distortion in his vocals, it’s the latter track that reveals that the years have not been so kind to Leithauser’s voice. This would become evident too during the heartwrenching In The New Year and Red Moon, but what he lacks in high notes, he more than makes up for in bravado. It’s worth remembering, too, that the boys have been playing back to back shows and aren’t getting any younger but sure it’s only rock and roll.
What’s very clear is that the band have not lost a step in terms of chemistry, musicianship and showmanship. Martin and Bauer swap instruments at will, while Leithauser grips and jerks the microphone stand, stalking the stage menacingly. It’s a moody set – deep, atmospheric cuts like No Christmas Like I’m Talking, Dónde Está la Playa and On The Water however, offer chances for the underrated, textural guitar playing of Paul Maroon to shine.
The set’s closing minutes would include Angela Surf City and Heaven, offering a couple of moments of levity, while the deliciously snarky fan favourite We’ve Been Had would close the show outright.
A triumphant return, no doubt. All we can hope for are some new sounds.