April 26, 2023

The Walkmen played Webster Hall

The reunited Walkmen are in the midst of a five-night run at New York's Webster Hall for their first shows in ten years and they sound as great as ever.

Opening the night was Peter One, a folk singer residing in Nashville who fled Cote d'Ivoire in the '80s and has found a resurgence of interest due to the discovery of his cult record from 1985. Playing songs from his forthcoming album, which due next week, the folk artist laid down his barren, skeletal tunes of acoustic melodies that reference Afro-pop and '70s country for something totally refreshing and inspiring. While his album boasts Simon & Garfunkel style harmonies and breezy, buoyant tones, the live setting was a much more intimate affair that gave view to the artist's most vulnerable and raw style. Jubilant rhythms are abundant on the artist's new album which collects songs he's written over the course of his life, but haven't been recorded for a release until now, and with lush production it's a rather stark contrast to his minimal stage approach. Still, his captivating performance was an excellent mood enhancement to set the stage for the main event of the night.

Unfairly, I don't always think of The Walkmen when I think of the golden era of New York's rock and roll revival from the early aughts. Despite forming in the winter of 2000, they've never stood out in my mind quite like their contemporaries in The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or even LCD Soundsystem or TV on the Radio. Yet their significance in the scene is paramount and without their prior incarnation as Jonathan Fire*Eater (a group that included three out of five Walkmen), it's quite possible the hype around New York City bands at the turn of the millennium wouldn't have had the same results. Now, ten years since their last shows, The Walkmen have joined countless other groups on the reunion train, but lucky for us, they fall into the camp of sounding just as great now as they did during their initial run. Last week, the band took to national television and played The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Ahead of the appearance, the group teased that they weren't going to rehearse and that the televised appearance would be the first time the five members would play together in a decade. Even if that isn't fully true, they knocked the performance out of the park and in the days since, they played a warm-up show in Rhode Island and an official show to open up their run at Webster Hall. On night two, the band was perfectly primed and ready to win back their audience and they succeed with flying colors. Opening with "Thinking of a Dream I Had," the night began with the rowdy energy that's propelled by the track's rolling drum beat as the words "we're gonna have a good time tonight" set the tone for everything that was to follow and got the crowd amped up to see these five friends back on stage to deliver the sentimental tunes they wrote way before their meaning could form a full grasp. Always coming across a bit more debonaire than the early mentioned peers, the band has grown into this with their wise looks, their button downs and crisp attire reinforcing their excellence and sharpness so much so that it became hard to believe they really skipped practice and still sounded so good. Each song hit with divine form, the ripping guitar mixing splendidly with the driving synths right when the band needed to take things up a notch, but also sparkling under a bit of a relaxed tone, inducing the right amount of nostalgia for a crowd that looked like an NYU reunion of white men in their late 30s and early 40s. Throughout the night, the band sounded polished and mature, focusing in on their stoic compositions that put the grandeur of rock on full display. "Angela Surf City" got the crowd revved up and gave the night a jolt at the exact right moment and while there were certainly no dull moments, it was clearly the group's livelier numbers that really got the crowd reacting with unfiltered emotions. As to be expected, the band's signature tune "The Rat" was without question the most unrestrained number of the night, one that saw the crowd responding with the biggest cheers and most emphatic sing-a-long of the show. It was an absolute triumph of a performance with Hamilton clutching the mic with his firm grip and shouting out each word as if his life depended on it while the band raged behind him with unrelenting momentum. The band ended the night by playing the first song they ever wrote during their first ever band practice, "We've Been Had," a song that truly surmises the band's sound that it's no wonder it was what gave them the courage and attitude to keep going. Twenty three years later, it's wonderful to have them back, perhaps more settled into their sound than ever before, and glowing with the utmost esteem.

Set list:

01 "Thinking of a Dream I Had"
02 "On the Water"
03 "In the New Year"
04 "Little House of Savages"
05 "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone"
06 "Red Moon"
07"Canadian Girl"
08 "Blue as Your Blood"
09 "Dónde Está la Playa"
10 "Angela Surf City"
11 "Juveniles"
12 "I Lost You"
13 "138th St."
14 "Revenge Wears No Wristwatch"
15 "Wake Up"
16 "The Rat"
17 "Heaven"
18 "What's in It for Me"
19 "All Hands and the Cook"
20 "Louisiana"
21 "We've Been Had"

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