The Walkmen, Manchester University

Manchester University

The Walkmen's frontman, Hamilton Leithauser, looks ordinary enough. With his sensible haircut and black Fred Perry-style top he could be a student. He certainly seems the most unlikely source for his vocal, which tears from his body like an unholy squawk and must leave his voice-box in complete tatters.

Leithauser's voice is the instrument that will sort Walkmen lovers from haters but, if it appeals there is more to like. The New York band use vintage instruments including an old organ, huge shaker and curious box of a keyboard, and sip from bottles of lager, which seems to aid the curious effect of making their instruments sound sozzled.

The quintet are a mix of cousins from the same street (Leithauser and organist Walter Martin) and others from the same school. Three of them were in the ill-fated Jonathan Fire*Eater, but they seem finally to have arrived at a distinctive noise. Their songs beat the blues road through travelogues and vengeance. Leithauser wails about trains that never arrive, and the Mississippi sunset. The gorgeous Louisiana - a timeless rock song that suddenly erupts into a trumpet waltz - seems reminiscent of post-flood New Orleans, instruments floating away. It even survives the mic stand collapsing, momentarily leaving Leithauser barking into nothing.

They don't quite reproduce the transcendental intricacies of their acclaimed new album A Hundred Miles Off, but there are different sparks. The encore finds Leithauser screaming "Lead me onnnnn!" with such molten ferocity that you half expect his vocal chords to fly from his mouth and plop onto the face of somebody in the back row.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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