Just a mile or so down the road on this cold November night the great and the good of the music industry were eagerly awaiting the results of 2012 Mercury Prize. Little did they know the real show was going down in nearby Kentish Town where The Walkmen produced a dazzling display of their elegantly crafted garage-rock-alt-country swagger.
New York's finest new-new-wave survivors have been kicking around for over a decade now but it's their last two albums, Lisbon and Heaven, that have seen them ascend from cult act to bona-fide hot tickets. Anyone who's wallowed in their recent work will tell you that the mixture of haunting guitars, anti-ballads and moments of sheer incandescence will almost certainly make for a heady live brew. Luckily the fans crammed into The Forum were treated to such a performance - and then some. Most bands would eagerly tear out of the starting gates but The Walkmen deliberately set the atmosphere with the slow, brooding and resonant Line By Line. It was a brave, but wise move as Hamilton Leithauser's vocals immediately filled the room commanding pin-drop silence from all bar the usual gig-chatterers. Sharply suited and swigging a glass of rose, Leithauser appeared like a exile from the Vegas strip as opposed to a frigid North London night. His vocal performance oozed command and confidence, walking the tightrope between beauty and anguish that typifies many of the band's songs, displaying elegant crooning one minute and fiery vocal explosions of rage the next.
For long term fans there were several trips down memory lane as well as the anthemic likes of Heartbreaker and Lisbon's Angela to tear up the auditorium. The second half of the set ramped up the pace with their best-known track The Rat doing nothing less than you'd expect. We Can't Be Beat got the crowd singing along and the random appearance of a horn section brought forth the moments of mournful beauty that make a Walkmen set so special. On Lisbon's highlights the horns suggest a woebegone mariachi band, but there was something magical and almost festive about their appearance in Kentish Town.
Leithauser concluded the gig by bravely leaping off the stage and walking through the crowd to pats on the back and further applause. No further evidence was needed that The Walkmen are one of the most solid and intriguing bands around but this night made an undisputable case. Although they command a large and loyal following, there's a very real sense that everyone else will catch on soon and their gigs will inevitably get larger. For the time being it's well worth trying to catch them in a comparatively intimate venue before they reach stadium levels of adulation. As the opening track on Heaven suggests, The Walkmen really can't be beat...and who the hell are Alt-J anyway?