Impressively for a five-piece band, The Walkmen's line-up has remained constant throughout their ten-year existence. One would think, then, that the absence of a member (in this case, bass player and organist Walter Martin, who remained in New York due to his partner's pregnancy) would throw them out of their ten-legged stride.
Not so. The Walkmen simply shuffle their roles: singer Hamilton Leithauser takes on rhythm guitar duties; organ-playing is performed on a rota. They deliver a brilliant show with almost casual excellence, proving that, even at eighty per cent capacity, The Walkmen are among the world's very best live acts.
Their self-assurance is well-earned. Six years ago, The Walkmen released A Hundred Miles Off, the follow-up to Bows + Arrows, a buzzed-about record that spawned the indie disco floorfiller The Rat. A Hundred Miles Off was an almost perversely difficult record that sold poorly and placed the band firmly on the back foot. Lesser outfits would have folded; instead, The Walkmen pressed on and released a trio of fantastic albums: You and Me (2008), Lisbon (2010) and, most recently, this year's Heaven, which positively glows with contentment.
The vast bulk of their set tonight comes from that rehabilitative trilogy. It's a murderer's row of a setlist that covers pretty much anything anyone could want from a rock band: rafter-reaching anthems (Heartbreaker, Love Is Luck), contemplative tearjerkers (Red Moon, Stranded) and absolute fucking bangers (Woe Is Me, Angela Surf City). There's not a crossover hit among them, but the attentive audience reacts ecstatically to each one: the lilting intro of Juveniles elicits a near-orgasmic "Yeeessss!" from an audience member.
Tying everything together is Hamilton Leithauser's voice - a big, sexy thing that resembles Bob Dylan with greater power and a firmer grasp of what The Voice judges would refer to as 'pitch'. In all honestly, he doesn't look entirely comfortable playing the guitar - holding it like a recalcitrant teenager coerced into baby-carrying duties - but he plays it well.
A horn section all the way from, er, Leeds ("The best two hundred pounds can buy", jokes Leithauser) appears for the beautiful one-two of Red Moon and Stranded, and temporarily brings a cantina-like atmosphere to the cavernous, brick-lined Village Underground.
During a generous six-song encore we're treated to We've Been Had - the standout from their very first album, 2002's Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Has Gone - plus Louisiana from the unfortunate A Hundred Miles Off which, isolated from its recorded bedfellows, is quite lovely.
Odd then, that one imbecilic audience member mistakenly thinks it would be funny to bellow "Get your Rat out!" at the band early on during the gig. Fortunately, The Walkmen are gentlemanly types and if the heckle bothers them, it doesn't show. And eventually, at the very end of the show, they oblige - performing an eye-poppingly intense rendition of The Rat that features label boss (and formerly one half of The Cocteau Twins) Simon Raymonde on bass.
It was an amazing finale to a gig that was a hair's breadth away from perfection.