The Walkmen, Koko, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The Walkmen sound like Dylan fronting The Strokes, and are one of the best US rock bands of late. Washington DC schoolfriends who relocated to New York, their last album Bows & Arrows got them an appearance on The OC and US acclaim and sales; the new A Hundred Miles Off is better. Its barfly protagonists sound like they're drowning in their own lives, not least because of singer Hamilton Leithauser's eerie Dylan drawl; their music combines louche disaffection and propulsive hooks. The records suggest a classic yet sharply modern romantic American band, on the cusp of success.

The band's quixotic decision to veer into France midway through a UK tour, and attendant customs delays, means they sprint into the venue an hour after they were supposed to start playing, crashing straight on to stage. The crowd's only clue is a suspiciously long contribution by Austin, Texas's Sound Team, whoplay a full set superbly, using post-punk rhythms as the skeleton for Moog improvisations, guitar assaults, and frenetic displays from singer-guitarist Matt Oliver. When they get their hands on a tune as good as new single "Born to Please", they sound extraordinarily good. A real bonus, from a band for the near future.

Leithauser tumbles up to the mic at 10.30 and starts to sing as if his life depends on it. Perhaps it's over-compensation, but that's The Walkmen's problem tonight. Leithauser is woozily delicate on record, a vocal presence that draws you in. But for "All Hands and the Cook", he clenches one arm round the mic, as if squeezing power from it, and lets rip with a gravel-throated howl. Only for the massively Dylanesque "138th Street" does he let his voice drop into the sorrowful drag that makes it special.

For the rest, he's less Dylan fronting The Strokes than Springsteen running a punk band. The thrashy "Tenleytown" shows The Walkmen are adept at this. Almost harp-like ripples of massed guitars and keyboard, sometimes veering into calypso, demonstrate their subtler qualities. But it's when you can focus on the lyrics that you hear them at their best.

"Little House of Savages" seems to draw an awful picture of a drinker scared of the family "waiting for me at home". Current single "Louisiana" pulls everything together, as Leithauser roars, "I got my hands full!" about a girl who'll lead to no good, over a mighty melody, and mariachi brass. But elsewhere, the groggy, lived-in beauty of the band's albums is often pulverised. At least there'll be a song in how they got here.