Methodist Central Hall, Manchester
Thursday, January 20th 2011
The Walkmen’s fifth studio album Lisbon, an homage to the Portuguese capital, is a continuation of the vintage sound they procured on 2008s magnum opus You & Me. "# Hey, do you want to hop the fence? / In the sleepy red sunsets … Now the street light bright and pale as we sip our ginger ale #", from the jaunty Woe Is Me, paints vanilla skies of the Mediterranean, which is perhaps one of the reasons why it took so long for me to fall in love with the record. I’ve always associated the band with wintertime, and no one does music for crisp winter evenings like these better than The Walkmen.
Tonight is a healthy mix of old and new. Like the last time they played in these parts, the venue is new to me (the band played at St Philips Church in Salford in November) and the Methodist Central Hall is a lovely, personal setting. The fan demographic seems to be mainly hardcore fans, the ones bothered to find out about these secretive, little publicised shows in venues off the beaten track. Anyone who thinks that all they’re about is The Rat are way off the mark.
Fond of their vintage instruments, Hammond organs and Wurlitzers roll through the set tonight, while the band mill about through the crowd before and after the gig. Hamilton Leithauser clutches his microphone, hunched over for much of the evening, throwing his all into what is an exceptional vocal display. I still maintain he sounds like a drunken Dylan. Of the newer songs, the hymnal Stranded is sublime, and While I Shovel The Snow is a quiet, plaintive moment. Woe is Me, Juveniles and Angela Surf City are also premiered from the new record, providing the more upbeat moments of the evening.
However, it’s the metronomic twang of Blue as Your Blood that moves the walls of the venue tonight: "# How many nights must lumber by / I sit alone and I wonder why / Oh hazy, lazy days / I could dream of you forever / Under the shade of a Juniper tree / I sing a sad song of you and me … Black is the colour of your eyelash / Spanish is the language of your tongue / Life rolled us over like a town car / Bruised up and busted to the ground / The Lord came down and said to me / Throw off your worries and be at peace … In a hazy, lazy daydream # ". Granted, it’s more suited to June than January, but the image is so stunning that it deserves its own paragraph.
138th Street is a surprise and welcome inclusion in tonight’s set list, written when the band used to live on that very New York street, whilst In The New Year is a suitable, timely dose of optimism for 2011. Their finest moment is when Leithauser and guitarist Paul Maroon appear for the encore - the tender, coming of age number New Country: "# Voices I never have heard / Look at the way it ought to be #". Elsewhere, the sense of adventure continues on the brash I Lost You, screaming the line "# The world’s going round, throw me a rope #". On The Water details bitter nights as "#All the windows are glowing / The branches bending low #", bringing the theme of the evening back to January.
Sticking to their roots, two songs from their debut long player Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone are aired, bookending tonight’s show; the title track at the beginning; We’ve Been Had at the end.
Although it takes a while, Lisbon is a classic record and the live treatment does justice to it tonight. Portugal is famous for its port, and like that tipple, The Walkmen seem to get better with age. Following a brief flirtation with the mainstream some years back, they are now enjoying a renaissance in what are proving to be their vintage years. As terribly clichéd as it sounds, tonight’s show proves they’re a band for all seasons.
words: Ste Grindrod