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The Walkmen pick up right where they left off at First Avenue

The Walkmen performed at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.
The Walkmen performed at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.Tony Nelson for MPR

by Joel Swenson and Tony Nelson

September 19, 2023

It had been more than 10 years since the Walkmen last played the Twin Cities — or pretty much anywhere else. A few months after performing at the inaugural 10 Thousand Sounds music festival in June of 2013, the band announced a hiatus. Earlier this year, they returned for 29-city Revenge Tour across North America with some European festival dates thrown in. 

At Monday night’s First Avenue stop, it was like the Walkmen never went anywhere. Singer Hamilton Leithauser, guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick, and bassists/organists Walter Martin and Peter Bauer picked up right where they left off.

During their hiatus, the members spread out. As Leithauser explained, “We started in Spanish Harlem in January of 2000, but now we live all over the place, so it’s much harder to get together.” Ranging from Los Angeles to Seville, Spain, all over the place is an understatement. But it isn’t just geography that’s made it tough for a Walkmen reunion to happen after all these years. All five members spent the last decade pursuing successful solo careers, including time in the studio with Fleet Foxes for Barrick, scoring Oscar-winning documentaries for Maroon, Bauer runs a record label, Martin has released albums for both children and adults, and Leithauser has kept busy touring and recording collaborations with Rostam and Kevin Morby.

Leithauser continued, “When we decided to get back together, we didn’t know if anyone would remember who the hell we were.” Judging by the decibel level in the crowd — according to my phone, it peaked at around 130 dB between the main set and the encore — it seems plenty of people remember them fondly.

Joining the Walkmen on this leg of the Revenge Tour were New York-based dreamy shoegazers Yeah Baby. Drawing primarily from their 2020 debut Neptune Hotel, Yeah Baby’s spacey guitars, breathy vocals, and loose rhythm section hold their own when compared to other shoegaze revival acts like Pity Sex, Nothing, and DIIV.

Yeah Baby perform at First Avenue
Yeah Baby opened up for the Walkmen at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.
Tony Nelson for MPR

Yeah Baby is Hanna White and Sean Kwon on guitars and vocals, Casey Mullen on drums, and Skyler Skjelset on bass. If Skjelset’s name rings a bell, it’s because he’s a founding member of Fleet Foxes and previously spent extensive time on the road with the Walkmen as well as Beach House. White and Kwon shared vocal duties throughout the set, either individually or in harmony. Kwon’s solo vocals left a lot to be desired as his mic was nearly nonexistent in the mix, but White lent just the right amount of apathy to Yeah Baby’s effect-driven wall of sound to really hone in their shoegaze sensibilities. At times, Mullen mixed it up and even threw in some doo-wop rhythms — or shoe-wop, if you will — which kept things interesting throughout Yeah Baby’s set.

The lights dimmed, signaling the Walkmen’s set was near. The quick syncopated guitar intro of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche” rang out over the house speakers as a smoky orange glow enveloped the stage. The band entered and immediately kicked things off with Bows + Arrows’ “What’s in It for Me?” The slow-burning track allowed the band to settle into the stage and provided Leithhauser ample opportunity to warm up his angst-fueled and strained vocal cords. His tall frame outlined against the orange haze created a burning tension as he belted out the song’s highest, unrestrained notes.

Right out of the gate, it was clear that the Walkmen still had plenty of fire left in them, and their hiatus hadn’t stifled their intensity one bit. With no new music to promote, they rewarded the voracious crowd for their decade-long patience with a 20-song set of nothing but cherished favorites. Following the set’s opener came “On the Water,” “In the New Year,” and the band’s biggest hit, “The Rat.”

Barrick showed a lot of restraint behind his drum kit for the first few songs, save the occasional subtly flashy drum fill. With “The Rat,” all subtlety went out the window, and he unleashed a rhythmic barrage over the entire song. The band’s Colbert performance of the song from earlier this year captured Barrick’s intensity well, but it’s exponentially more impressive when witnessed in person. He didn’t let up for the rest of the set and hammered on his drums with unrelenting fervor.

Hamilton Leithauser sings into a microphone and plays guitar.
The Walkmen performed at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.
Tony Nelson for MPR

Leithauser’s voice also never let up. At many points throughout the set, his vocals had a sort of Rod Stewart quality about it if Rod Stewart had experienced nothing but the most excruciating anguish throughout his life. It was gentle when it needed to be, but those rare moments were always immediately followed by the pained, cathartic screams for which Leithauser is most known. Onstage, his microphone is simultaneously his closest confidant and seemingly the object of his most deep-seated ire. When the mic stand was thrown into the mix, it damn near became a weapon. 

Song after song, Leithauser poured his heart out to the crowd, screaming out his demons with more passion than even most intense metal or hardcore vocalists can muster. But in between, his sparse banter was full of gratitude and delivered with a sincere, endearing smile. For several songs, Leithauser grabbed a guitar to add his own layer to the already massive wall of sound that Maroon, Martin, and Bauer built with their heavily delayed guitars and huge organ swells. 

On “Canadian Girl” and “All Hands and the Cook,” that wall kept building and swelling, growing more and more intense as Leithauser shouted out the final lines of each song. Maroon’s jangly and dissonant guitar chords on “Juveniles” added an element of controlled conflict that lent itself well to the song's subject matter — indifference towards a lost love. The heavy distortion and delay on Bauer’s hollow-body guitar — an instrument usually associated with clean, pristine tones — at the end of “Heaven” made it sound straight out of hell rather than heaven (in a good way, of course).

For the encore, the Walkmen pulled out two crowd favorites: “Thinking of a Dream I Had” and “We’ve Been Had.” There’s a sort of infinite heaviness on the live version of “Thinking of a Dream I Had” that isn’t quite as prevalent on the Bows + Arrows version. When Leithauser screamed out the final “Don’t” during the song’s bridge, everyone in the room was suddenly present for every single second of his dream.

Before closing out the evening with “We’ve Been Had,” Leithauser explained that it was the first song they ever wrote when they got together in a Spanish Harlem warehouse for the first time in January of 2000. A song like “We’ve Been Had” is certainly not a bad way to start their career, and it was the exact right way to end Monday night’s fantastic show.


What's In It For Me?

On the Water 

In the New Year

The Rat

Wake Up

Little House of Savages

Blizzard of ‘96

New Year's Eve

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone

Four Provinces

Dónde Está La Playa 

Angela Surf City

Red Moon

Canadian Girl

I Lost You


All Hands and the Cook



Thinking of a Dream I Had

We've Been Had