By Sarah MurphyWalking on stage over an hour after doors open, sans opening band, and playing for a solid two and a half hours is no small feat. The fact that the Walkmen were able to do this and keep the audience transfixed is a testament to their impressive career. Fittingly, the Toronto show was one of a handful of dates recognizing the band's tenth anniversary. The New Yorkers first released Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone back in 2002 and have since built a remarkable body of work, which was unabashedly celebrated live.
Finally taking the stage in front of an increasingly antsy crowd, any restlessness dissolved when the Walkmen launched into opening track "What's in It for Me" from 2004's Bows + Arrows and turned into absolute delight when the band pulled out their best-known tune "The Rat" second. Powering through a set that included a little something from every one of the Walkmen's LPs, it became clear that the last decade has been a period of tremendous growth for the group.
Through witnessing at least 30 songs, it was almost shocking to realize how much excellent material this band have churned out over the years. From the out-of-character surf jangle of "Angela Surf City" from 2010's Lisbon to the infrequently played live "Little House of Savages," it was obvious that this was a set list designed for fans.
Live renditions were spruced up by band members constantly switching instrumental duties and bringing out a horn section for "Red Moon," "Canadian Girl" and "Louisiana," to name a few. Those present were even treated to a few brand new tracks (including one titled "Love Is Luck") from the Walkmen's forthcoming record, which according to frontman Hamilton Leithauser is entirely finished.
Leithauser is truly spectacular to watch live, delivering every line with a panicked desperation that sounds as if his vocal chords might implode at any second, but managing to rein it in just in time, every time. He took the stage solo for "138th Street" -- in one of the highlights of the night -- followed by a couple more old favourites and a killer version of "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone."
After declaring "We've played all the songs we intended to play," the Walkmen opened the floor to requests, playing another six tunes, starting with "Thinking of a Dream I Had" and closing out a phenomenal show with "Heartbreaker." Demanding an audience's attention for a good 30 songs is nothing short of ambitious, but when a band sound as good as the Walkmen, it seems to work out.
Here's hoping the next decade of the Walkmen is just as outstanding as the last.
To see Exclaim!'s Walkmen photo gallery, courtesy of Sarah Murphy, head here.