One of the most welcome pieces of news to stumble across the wire earlier this year was
learning that The Walkmen would be reuniting for a select number of shows in 2023. Well,
Toronto’s turn on that tour just passed by and I’m here to report to you that the years away
have done nothing to diminish the live passion of this band. To bring you up to date with the
comings and goings of the band in the last ten years, lead singer Hamilton Leithauser has been
prolific during the band’s so-called “extreme hiatus”, putting out four albums and touring
constantly. Guitarist Paul Maroon has worked with Leithauser as well as working on film
scores, bassist Walter Martin and keyboard / guitarist Pete Bauer have both put out multiple
albums of their own, while drummer Matt Barrick has toured with Fleet Foxes as well as
recording an album with Muzz, a new band that features Interpol’s Paul Banks.

The tour itinerary initially consisted of residencies in New York, Washington and Philadelphia
but quickly grew to include a number of European festivals and more North American dates. In
the early days of the tour the setlist changed from the night to night, but in this last phase of
the cycle the band has decided to stick with a dedicated running order.

After an up tempo set by local Sub Pop act Kiwi Jr, The New York City five piece ambled on
stage to a warm ovation and got right down to business with the moody ‘What’s in it for Me’…a
piece laden with organ and Leithauser’s vocal lament. With the introduction out of the way,
Leithauser quizzed the audience as to where in Toronto the band first played because he
couldn’t quite remember. Lee’s Palace, The Horseshoe and a few others were ruled out, so it
was decided it was The Silver Dollar, but says it was actually the late great Rancho

Of their six studio efforts, the band has favoured their 2008 release You & Me (my personal
favourite) the most on this tour, routinely playing seven or eight songs a night, and on this
evening they combined two of it’s standouts: ‘On the Water’ and ‘In the New Year.’ The former
acting as a perfect appetizer to the latter’s main dish…the crowd delighted in both. Later in the
night they would bring out the ripping ‘Postcards from Tiny Islands’, the mournful ‘Red Moon’,
and the utterly satisfying ‘Donde Esta la Playa’.

I admit I’m totally biassed when it comes to this song, but a true highlight of the night was the
playing of ‘All Hands and the Cook’. A gem that can be found on 2006’s A Hundred Miles Off,
‘All Hands…’ has probably been played almost every night since its release and for good
reason. With its swelling guitar and organ working hand in hand, the song sounds so dramatic
especially with Leithauser working his best Bob Dylan vocal. As they almost always do, the
band brings the song to a standstill only to let Maroon’s guitar build a crescendo that
Leithauser tries to outdo with his shredding vocal cords…a true showstopper!

To close out the main set they looked back to their breakout album Bows and Arrows for a
variety of different songs. First up was ‘New Year’s Eve’, a song you’ve swore you’ve heard as
you’re walking out of the bar at closing time. Next up was ‘138th Street’, a song Leithauser
informed the crowd was about the location of their first practice space and it’s hard not to hear
echoes of your own life through it’s lyrics. The centrepiece of any Walkmen show is
undoubtedly ‘The Rat.’ Paul Maroon’s urgent downward strummed guitar, Matt Barrick’s
rollicking drum intro, and of course Leithauser’s balls to the wall vocal delivery all make for an
incendiary performance every time it’s played…the crowd truly enraptured but song’s end.

The encore was a two song set that perfectly encapsulation of everything The Walkmen do so
well. ‘Thinking of a Dream I Had’ has more of that attention grabbing guitar that works so well
on ‘The Rat’ and then you’ve got Leithauser wailing about “waiting on a subway ride / I’m
waiting for a train to arrive”…all of that tension builds until it’s ultimately released with Walter
Martin’s glorious organ passages…just dreamy. Leithauser explained that the last song of the
night was actually the first song that they ever wrote together…that song was ‘We’ve Been
Had’. With it’s nostalgic sounding piano and its words of being a “modern guy, don’t care
much for the Go Go or the retro” it’s a song that will play well anywhere at anytime…a classic
sendoff by a timeless band.

There has been no official word on what becomes of The Walkmen after this run of shows
concludes, but one can only hope that this is the start of a new chapter for them. This is too
glorious a band not to be operating on some sort of part-time level, at least…have mercy on us

-Johnny Hooper