Tonight The Walkmen played their final show. To be fair, in today’s music world, there is rarely a true concept of finality (unless the artist in question dies, in which case their archives will usually be mined for countless years to create posthumous releases). However, for all intents and purposes, The Walkmen seem to have given an indication that they have no plans to play together as a band for the foreseeable future. While this is a shame, rather than focus on the uncertainty of the future, I thought it would be appropriate to give a brief appreciation of their career.
My relationship with their music began like most other’s, by listening to “The Rat”. That song is without a doubt one of the greatest tracks I’ve ever listened to, filled with a drunken nervousness rarely captured so eloquently by other bands, besides The National probably. The track has this barreling tension that propels it forward, and singer Hamilton Leithauser spits out pure venom with the way he repeats, “You’ve got a nerve” over and over. The track grabs you with such intensity, that many faulted the band for never recreating it.
However, part of what made them great was the fact that they never really tried hard to recapture that bottled up energy in quite the same way, but rather found other outlets to express their feelings. Whether they were in their 20s or 30s, they still sang about the basic frustrations and uncertainty everyone faces. While they may have made music that was more restrained and stately than their peers, they were never boring, as their detractors might proclaim.
I only got to see them twice live, and both times I was very impressed. Both instances were at a music festival where I was much more excited than whoever I was with. When I saw them after Lisbon came out, it was refreshing and inspiring to see tracks like “Angela Surf City” or “In The New Year” be played live. The second time I saw them was just under a month ago. Sound issues plagued the set, and they were forced to cut it short after about 25 minutes of playing due to the acts beforehand taking too long to set up. It was a very disappointing evening made worse by the news that there would not be a chance to see them again. However, they did close with “Heaven”, and that chorus of “Remember what we fight for” was especially resonant in light of the recent news.
One thing The Walkmen had that not many other bands can stake a claim to is a consistently impressive discography. Everyone loves Bows + Arrows, but just as worthwhile was their 2002 debut Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone. That album found the band in a much more raw place, where the anguish and anger sticks out more alongside the rough edges of the recordings. As they matured, they still retained the elements that made them so affecting, especially on 2009’s You And Me. However, the records I’m most likely to go back to are without a doubt the more recent ones, Lisbon & Heaven, which both found the band growing more comfortable with their sound while still retaining that particular drive and passion that made them memorable in the first place. You always knew what you were getting into with a Walkmen record. It wasn’t going to be flashy or all that different, but it would definitely be great.
Maybe fear of stagnation was what caused The Walkmen to call it quits. Perhaps they had figured that they had said all they set out to say with their music. There wasn’t a shortage of great songs to be written, but maybe they just felt tired. All of the members seem to be involved in solo projects, so we won’t be losing their voices, just their collective spirit. Because of their restraint and maturity, they were often under appreciated and not recognized as highly as many of their contemporaries. All I can say with certainty is that The Walkmen were one of my favorite bands, and whether or not they get back together down the road, they’ve left behind a hell of a discography to delve into and appreciate.
- David Sackllah