Live Review: The Walkmen at KOKO, 30/08/23

The Walkmen find a new finest form on their return to London after far too long away

Humility is a weird thing. To be aware that you have it negates having it in the first place. To rise to any significant level in any field and maintain genuine humility is almost impossible. But if The Walkmen are faking it, they’re faking it on an Oscar-winning level.

The DC-by-way-of-NYC (or is that the other way around?) quintet step out onto the KOKO stage less like returning heroes and more like understated craftsmen. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser looks genuinely stunned by the volume of the roar and the size of the crowd. Several times throughout the night, he mentions how surprised they are that anyone turned up at all. He means it, too. None of the enduring love the band has received before or after their 10-year hiatus is taken for granted.

The set jumps around the band’s 10 years of records, but there’s a definite sense that they’ve plumped for the songs they missed playing while they were apart. Leithauser refers to 2008’s You & Me as his personal favourite of their albums and that’s reflected in the seven songs it contributes to the set. Of those, a rip-roaring ‘In The New Year’ is an early highlight, as the band lean into their darker, more aggressive side. Following an incendiary, crowd-surf-inducing ‘The Rat’, Leithauser introduces ‘All Hands And The Cook’ saying: “Here’s another blast of darkness from us”.

If any cobwebs had lingered, they’d been well dispersed by the time the band got to the UK. Beyond simply being tight and efficient, they’re clearly giving it everything they’ve got. Guitarist Paul Maroon’s blue shirt is a far darker shade by the evening’s midpoint and Leithauser regularly roars himself a dangerous shade of red, proving that the finest voice of 00s indie rock has lost none of its power. Even when he pulls back (albeit only slightly) on ‘Red Moon’, the effect is no less impressive.

Oddly, only one song from their 2012 swansong makes the cut, but ‘Heaven’ signs off the set triumphantly. When they return for a fiercely demanded encore, Leithauser still seems bewildered by the reception. A cracking ‘Louisiana’ leads into early hit ‘We’ve Been Had’ and The Walkmen bid goodnight. When we recently spoke to Leithauser, he suggested that this run of shows could be the sum total of the band’s reunion. On tonight’s showing, it’d be greedy to want for more but such a shame if that’s that. Few bands climb to these heights and stay there.

The Walkmen play KOKO again on August 31, with tickets available here