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- Rock City, Nottingham »
While not quite on the scale of Stonehenge, Lord Lucan or the Lost City of Atlantis, the fact that The Walkmen still remain a relatively unknown quantity as far as mainstream success is concerned is something of a mystery.
Granted, their emergence in the early part of the last decade out of the ashes of Jonathan Fire*Eater raised a few eyebrows, while in second single 'The Rat' they staked a claim to having penned one of the bonafide anthems of its generation. By the same token, that very song also seems to have become an unshakable albatross around the band's necks, its presence on previous UK tours being the sole reason many had bothered to venture out to see the band play. The fact they subsequently dropped that song from their live set for a number of years suggests being recognised as mere "one hit wonders" provided more than a growing concern to the band. With the pressure lifted and shackles loosened, it was more than coincidental that during this period of disowning their most symbolic four and a half minutes to date seemed to culminate in arguably their most satisfying collections of work to date, namely You & Me and Lisbon. Sadly, despite such critical acclaim, they seem destined to be unable to shrug off the tag of perennial support band.
This evening is no exception, and yet despite the ridiculously early stage time of 7:05pm the 1700 capacity venue is over two-thirds full already, suggesting the transition from cult heroes to mainstream contenders may be just around the corner. What's most noticeable about The Walkmen is the way they approach every song, whether it be recent compositions like 'Juveniles' or 'Woe Is Me' or early ones such as 'New Year's Eve' and 'Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone' with an intensity as if it were their last ever performance. While all eyes are on charismatic frontman Hamilton Leithauser, special mentions must go to drummer Matt Barrick, a relentless flailing beast of Animal from The Muppets style proportions, and guitarist Paul Maroon, whose slick riffs drive every song while he nonchalantly makes eye contact with every hot looking girl on the front four rows. 'Canadian Girl' is dedicated to their tour manager for putting up with them, and yes they do play 'The Rat', which for all its sentiment doesn't stand out so much as merely fitting in alongside such hallowed company. As travesties go, their continued anonymity is beyond comprehension, so I'll leave it to a comment one wag in the audience uttered as they make their way off stage; The Walkmen, only the band The Strokes could have been. He's not wrong.
By contrast, The Black Keys are something of a baffling enigma in their own right. Exceptionally talented - occasionally startling even - musicians who could probably play the entire back catalogues of Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker without so much as blinking an eye. The fact you can barely move a muscle suggests they've steadily built up a devoted audience, even more beguiling considering their best known song to many is a cover version of The Sonics' interpretation of garage standard 'Have Love Will Travel'. At times, such is the tumultuous riffing and musical exorcism emanating from the stage that its easy to forget they're only a two-piece, and while their more feted buddies The White Stripes may have a sackful of hits under their belts, The Black Keys quite clearly wipe the floor with them in terms of musical virtuosity.
So why the tinges of disappointment? Well, amidst the succinctly refined jams and blues orientated licks, after twenty minutes of what seems like a history lesson in the evolution of rock and roll their show is crying out for one thing - a tune. Sure, 'Thickfreakness' still sounds as orgasmic as it did when first released seven years ago, and the sweat dripping off Dan Auerbach's brow like congealed icicles renders any criticism of their dexterity blasphemous in the extreme. At times, it's hard to tell the difference between their rendition of the blues and someone more radio-friendly such as say Seasick Steve (although I'm sure some guitar tutored expert will point that out later) and while there's little to fault in their endeavours, the worthiness of their show leaves a hollow taste especially after the spectacle that opened this evening's entertainment. Still, ending on a positive note, if a budding teenage guitarist forms a band on the basis of attending a show like this, it surely has to be better than considering the same prospect after several listens of Come Around Sundown, right? Right.
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