Years away from their last Bowery Ballroom show (and anyone referring to them as a “second-tier garage rock band”), The Walkmen strolled onto the stage in New York on Wednesday, June 6th, with supreme confidence. Their new record, a thirteen-track gem called Heaven (QRO review), had just dropped on Fat Possum Records the day before, and the 500-capacity club seemed intimate in comparison with the arenas and super clubs that typically host their tour dates.
The stage was dimly lit by ancient-looking incandescent bulbs, but the crowd had no trouble recognizing Hamilton Leithauser & co. as they emerged from the stage left stairwell, grabbed the tools of their trade, and got to work. Appearing to be in no rush to get through the first of two Spotify-streamed sets (divided by a brief intermission), they ease into some laid back numbers from the new LP before diving into the hits, eliciting some mild head-bobbing from a rapt but mostly tame audience. Drummer Matt Barrick simultaneously served as the room’s metronome and spark plug, bouncing away on the throne from behind his kit for the entirety of both sets. Few would be able to match his endurance and fervor; no one tries.
The band was joined by a five-piece horn section (featuring the frontman’s wife, Anna Stumpf) for the You & Me (QRO review) cut “Red Noon”. Random audience members contributed hoots and hollers as Leithauser’s silhouette crooned amidst the house lights’ appropriately-tinted crimson hue. And the voice… the voice remains as unique and powerful as ever. His signature wail teeters on the edge of straining, but always seems to summon some hidden strength to close out each note. At once vulnerable and robust, his voice never feels like it will break or crack; in a live setting, the instrument is impressive to behold.
And The Walkmen fans in attendance displayed their veneration without qualm, shushing the few Chatty Cathys who insisted upon conversing during “Hang On, Siobhan” without hesitation. When the familiar opening chords of “The Rat” began to ring out, the simmering crowd finally boiled over. Hands reached toward the sky, hair flew in most directions, and the echo of a 500-part harmony reverberated throughout the club. It was the rowdiest they would get all night.