One Of Us Or One Of Them – My Walkmen Story

So yesterday was a good friend of For The Rabbits’ 30th birthday.

Alex and I have been to many an incredible show together. From Josh Pearson’s stunning one man Barbican Show last year to Frightened Rabbit’s mainstream surging effort at the Forum.

We also attended this years End of The Road festival, here I successfully levelled the scores at one gig ruining each. Years earlier at a particularly rawkus Latitude (we were particularly rawkus the festival was particularly sedate around us) Alex had proceeded to regale us all with his own renditions of every song of a Death Cab for Cutie set, his knowledge of the lyrics and gusto was to be admired if the actual singing slightly less so, and watching a crowd gradually edge away from him was one of my fondest memories of the weekend.

So this brings us to End of The Road, for those who’ve not been, a more picturesque, beautiful, middle class experience does not to my knowledge exist. The quality of the bands is exceptional, bringing us to the Saturday night main stage headliners Sigur Ros. A fantastic band, and ever changing live spectacle, the new heavier direction called for drama & darkness, all pulsing strobe lights and brooding bowed electric guitars, it was quite the spectacle….or so i’m told. After sampling one too many of the multitude of ales/ciders and espresso vodkas on show I must admit I don’t remember a great deal of the set. Photographic evidence I was there exists and Alex was kind enough to fill me in on my efforts. I’m reliably informed following a particularly fantastic “Svefn-g-englar” I proceeded to not only attempt to sing along to a band who perform in Icelandic/Hoplandic (neither of which I’m entirely fluent in) but proceeded to sing along to the “chorus” of “Svefn-g-englar” throughout the entire set even when they’d moved onto other songs (in my defence they do all sound pretty similar when you’ve had a bit to drink) Alex at this point shuffled away from me and mingled with other people in a mutual hatred of that twat singing along behind them.

I think that we’re definitely even now… also at EOTR this year were The Walkmen (I’m getting to something resembling a point here people) A stunning set was played, covering all their decade long career and in my opinion stealing the festivals best band crown in the process. It was frankly wonderful and helped inspire Alex’s birthday present, a beautiful vinyl copy of their second album “Bows & Arrows” (it’s a miracle I let it be prised from my grasp long enough that it could be wrapped and handed to Alex) here below we see Alex enjoying said record…

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The Walkmen are a band who seem to entwined into my life, in fact, without wishing to sound in anyway disparaging,  they essentially just keep showing up!

My first run in with The Walkmen was over a decade ago. As teenagers, my brother, best-mate Paul, and I would make regular pilgrimages to see Idlewild whenever they toured (the wonders of Idlewild are for another time) On one particular occasion they were playing at I believe the Colston Hall in Bristol. Opening that night were a band who came from the ashes of the defunct Jonathan Fire*Eater (the only fact I knew about the band and one I think I told pretty much anyone who’d listen, even though to this day I have never listened to a single Jonathan Fire*Eater song) that band was The Walkmen. I must admit they rolled on and rolled off without leaving much impression. I was a 17 year old who liked Ikara Colt and The Strokes, so was far more into the second support, I believe they were called Starspangles (I could be wrong you try and recall support bands from over a decade ago!), they were all leather jackets and Ramones-lite punk songs. I lapped it up, and then never heard anything of them ever again, looking back I can see why. Oh the idiocy of youth…I can only assume The Walkmen’s take on art-rock was too obtuse for me back then, my teenage mind wanted Rock’n’Roll kicks and couldn’t see the talent in front of my eyes. That or they just weren’t that good back then, I can’t go back and check!

So to the back of my mind went The Walkmen, filed away with the likes of Aereogramme as bands i’d seen but probably didn’t need to see again. Then months later perusing MTV2 a black and white video popped up and the most intense opening bars of a song poured out of the speakers. This was “The Rat” this was The Walkmen and this was going to change the world as I knew it (or so I thought) for the next few months I flicked music channels trying to get a glimpse of it again. I bought the single, then I bought the album!

That album was “Bows & Arrows”, I was 19 at the time, I still wasn’t ready. It was difficult, it was angular and arty. Songs like “Thinking of a Dream I Had” and “Little House of Savages” lacked the immediacy of The Rat, they didn’t slap me round the face and say “we are the saviours of rock and roll” I tried I really did, I wanted to love this band, but I didn’t. Follow up “A Hundred Miles Off” was equally uninspiring (this didn’t change with time though I still don’t think it’s  a particularly good record) In fact the only thing I liked about that album was the opening line to one song “Emma, get me a lemon and if there are none get me a lime, and if there are none go out and get some” Not for the first time I again filed away The Walkmen as a band who weren’t for me.

Then two years later I turned on the radio and heard a track which seemed naggingly familiar, when the dj declared it the new single from The Walkmen my ears pricked up once more. It was wonderful, I immediately dug out “Bows & Arrows” and discovered what i’d been missing all along. This wasn’t throw away rock  & roll this was an amazing album worthy of repeat listens this was a band who wouldn’t change the world, but would go on to make some of the most incredible records I’ve heard. They were never going to be stars, they were the underground, they were for the music obsessive.

Three albums have passed since “You & Me”, and believe it or not they’ve written songs I actually like more than The Rat, Juveniles from Lisbon and the title track from most recent album Heaven for starters. They’re one of the most energetic, tight and exciting live bands on the circuit and they’ve got a following. It’s not a big following, they don’t sell out arenas and I doubt very much you’ll be hearing them on Radio 1 anytime soon, but for those in the know there’s little out their that’s even close. They have a drummer who drums like animal, a singer who throws himself into every note, and the intertwining guitars and piano are every bit as beautiful as The National or Grizzly Bear who seem to get far greater recognition.

At the end of the day Hamish put it best “you’re one of us or one of them” I know which side of the fence I’m on.

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