Live Review: The Walkmen + Almost Nothing. Koko Camden, 30th August 2023

When reading my fresh weekly copy of the NME some near twenty years ago, I have still a clear recollection of a full-page advert proclaiming the then all but unknown act The Walkmen as something along the lines of ‘Your New Favourite Band!’ This at the time reminded me of The Simpsons ‘Krusty Gets Cancelled’ episode where a new and up-and-coming ventriloquist act ‘Gabbo’ goes viral following a mysterious but effective ‘Gabbo is Coming!’ billboard advertising campaign. Gabbo swiftly rises to the top of the TV ratings and a flailing Krusty the Clown does indeed get cancelled, only for Springfield’s favourite jaded circus act to ultimately claw his way back to entertainment prominence via a Bart and Lisa assisted Elvis Presley style ‘Krusty’s Comeback Special’. Whilst The Walkmen’s own assertive advertising campaign did not quite propel them to the brief peaks of Gabbo nor threaten the success of their Krusty the Clown indie equivalents – The Strokes, Kings Of Leon, The Killers et al – it did at least bring the New York collective to the overseas attention of some, if not the targeted mass market. Favourable critical reviews followed for the 2004 LP ‘Bows + Arrows’ and the single ‘The Rat’ brought minor radio airplay breakthrough and occasional MTV rotation, yet meantime their guitar wielding peers had swiftly cemented themselves as the automatic (and perhaps at times, desperate) go to’s as headliners of the burgeoning global summer festival scene. After six albums in total, recorded for a mix of record labels, the band disbanded in 2013, pursuing solo careers only to reform now ten years later for this perhaps aptly titled ‘The Revenge’ tour. Tonight’s second of three sell out Koko shows proved if nothing else, that those who had paid attention back then had far from forgotten their one time “new favourite act.”

The band opened to a fervent and expectant crowd with the mid paced melodies of ‘Juveniles’ and ‘In the New Year’ before fully letting fly with a rousing ‘Angela Surf City’ and a raucous ‘Little House Of Savages’. Front man Hamilton Leithauser (who with age appears to morphing into Dennis Quaid) clearly was not in take it easy mode, stretching near every vocal line to its maximal possibility. ‘138th Street’ was an ode to the very Bronx locality where the band first formed and ‘Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone’ stemmed from those very early days. Their 2013  ‘You & Me’ album provided more than a few tunes including the mournful ‘Donde Esta La Player’, ‘Canadian Girl’ and ‘Red Moon’, played sequentially and then followed up with the epic ‘Four Provinces’ and ‘I Lost You’. The audience joined in for every word of ‘The Rat’, now firmly established as the band’s most popular number (4 million plus YouTube views alone), but perhaps the finest song of the night was ‘All Hands And The Cook’,  pumped with a swirling wall of noise and driving rhythm section. The main set closed out with ‘Heaven’ which Leithauser said was the last song the band ever wrote from their much overlooked album of the same name.

A thumping and pounding ‘Thinking of a Dream I Had’ began the encore only for the crowd then to be calmed next by the country meets mariachi tones of ‘Louisiana’. The finale was a forlorn ‘We’ve Been Had’ with Leithauser loudly and proudly proclaiming “Sometimes I’m just happy I’m older” before they all eventually exit stage left appearing somewhat humbled by the rapturous gathered adoration.

Support came from Almost Nothing, a new and mostly electronic based outfit fronted by Idlewild lead singer Roddy Woomble. Backed by a keyboardist, guitarist and some synthetic beats Woomble was in good spirits. Firstly for being the undercard to the The Walkmen, his “favourite band of the last twenty years” and secondly as his new project’s self titled debut LP release date was just days away. Woomble’s Scottish baritone and melodic timing would work well within many a musical genre and this Depeche Mode circa late eighties inspired brew was from first listen, a very enticing blend.

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