The Walkmen + A Boy Named Crow + Mr Bones & The Dreamers @ The Barfly, Birmingham – 18th February 2009

The Walkmen

What’s this – I’m out on a school night? Why yes, yes I am, and I’m in the Barfly to see New York’s The Walkmen play one of only three UK gigs before heading out on their US and Canadian tour with Kings of Leon.

Tonight’s opening band,”>Mr Bones and the Dreamers – well, let’s face it. I’ve seen them a few times now, in fairly swift succession, and although I ALWAYS say they get better every time you see them…well, they do. Tonight was especially impressive thanks to the great sound in the Barfly – I hadn’t realised how bloody marvellous the backing vocals are! Anyway. Tonight’s high points: a stage large enough for the whole band to stand on it without being close enough to share organs, K’s voice (particularly, mournfully, impressive tonight), the absolutely blistering violin and tempo changes in Lend Me A Looking Glass and – as always – Time To Rest; the perfect, joyful closing song.

Mr Bones and The Dreamers

One of Mr Bones and the Dreamers’ great strengths is their ability to shift from slow, dreamlike ballad to rousing, rolling energy – often in the same song, and tonight I honestly cannot fault anything about their set; whether you liked it or not, they were taking you with them. I personally liked it. A lot. Broken record I may be, but you really need to go and see them, soon, somewhere small enough that you can stand close and look at their faces while they play. Their EP launch is coming up in April.

A Boy Named CrowA Boy Named Crow

Tonight’s second band, A Boy Named Crow, somehow sneaked onstage while I was at the bar, prompting me to abandon hope of refreshment and scarper back down the front so I could see. And you know…I am so glad I did. I am not sure if the sound was slightly less on their side, but the sound levels didn’t seem to be as strong. HOWEVER. The scramble through the crowd and the partially wedged position against a pillar were well worth it – because the music these guys make is beautiful. The guitar goes from fragile, and delicate to rousing and powerful, and watching singer/guitarist Matt Geary looping and layering guitar parts on top of each other is impressive and so perfectly done, to gorgeous effect. I didn’t manage to get a setlist tonight, so I can’t tell you any of the songs except for Dangerous Games – and on close inspection I found very little further info online either; the band’s website is still under development, although they are on Facebook if you’re into that kind of thing. What more can I say, except that the balance of sweet and sharp was perfect; if only it’d been a bit louder. I know there were twice as many people in the opening act but surely that shouldn’t mean they were twice as loud?! Well, perhaps I am exaggerating, but certainly I did struggle a tiny bit to pick up the vocals, and if the lyrics are as sharply touching as the music I’ll make sure my ear is welded to the speaker next time.

The WalkmenThe Walkmen

Finally, at around 9.30pm the Walkmen took to the stage and for just a few minutes I caught myself thinking, well. The music’s lovely but I can’t hear much of that vocal…and then BLOODY HELL. I can hear it NOW. I don’t know what was going on with the sound, whether it was deliberate, whether it was where I was standing, whether I’d developed accurate and temporary deafness or what – but for some reason, when the vocals were quiet they were really quiet – and when they weren’t they were sheer bloody hair-raising genius, and I kid you not. There were moments of absolute mindbending glory. The music – okay, I shall confess. I am not overly familiar with The Walkmen, it was part of the reason I wanted to see them. Imagine how happy I am to discover that they sound a bit like 50’s love songs, crooked fairground music, weird samba, jingly Christmas soaring noisy kaBOOM. That’s probably about the best way of summing them up. Or, if you want to simplify it…they’re rather good, you know.

The Walkmen

My only problem tonight, and perhaps it was because it was the middle of the week, and a shcool night, was that somewhere about a third into their set I felt things lost energy a little bit – perhaps it would have been different for those who knew every word and who had already navigated the gorgeously shimmery guitars, but given the weirdly muted vocals (look, I don’t know…perhaps it was just me?) I just felt I lost them a bit in the middle. Fortunately though I found them…or they found me, perhaps, and I am glad about that. Go along to their MySpace page and check out the tracks available there to listen to – in particular In The New Year, which is gorgeous and oddly moving…and then just listen to everything else, because it’s all I’ve been doing since I got home.

The Walkmen

Review – Gill Duckett
Photos – Sophie Stern

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