'The Walkmen' return to San Francisco for two night show at Fillmore 

click to enlarge Together for a decade, the Walkmen have long had a popular fan base in The City, even though they’ve only recently earned significant critical acclaim. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Together for a decade, the Walkmen have long had a popular fan base in The City, even though they’ve only recently earned significant critical acclaim.

Inexplicably, the Walkmen have long played the part of the nameless character actor in the indie-music scene.

Though regarded as talented and capable, they haven’t received accolades or star status like some of their contemporaries.

But after a decade of making great music, including a late-career upswing highlighted by three recent albums, the Walkmen — who play the Fillmore on Thursday and Friday with Father John Misty — are finally getting their due respect.

“Heaven,” their sixth and latest album, has received heaps of critical acclaim, and New York City bands that once overshadowed them — the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — slowly have faded into irrelevance or inactivity.

Now would be the time for gloating. Yet vocalist Hamilton Leithauser, whose startling range forms the backbone of the group’s sound, isn’t offering told-you-sos.

“I really don’t know what people think of us,” Leithauser says. “But I guess it would be nice if people thought we were still making good music. We’ve never tried to compare ourselves with any other bands.”

“Heaven” is yet another vehicle for Leithauser’s trademark croon, which moves from mournful lamentation to triumphant exultation — and that’s just in the opening song, “We Can’t Be Beat.”

While the album includes familiar Walkmen specialties — Paul Maroon’s shimmering, trebly guitar and Peter Bauer, Walter Martin and Matt Barrick’s propulsive rhythm work — the lyrics reflect new themes of contentment and happiness.

After being defined for so long by “The Rat,” a fierce, misanthropic track about urban and social alienation found on their second album, “Bows and Arrows,” the Walkmen now are producing   tracks like “Song for Leigh,” a tune about Leithauser’s daughter.

The title song “Heaven” is an inspiring ode to friendship, and on “We Can’t Be Beat,” Leithauser sounds as if he’s finally found peace, singing, “Loneliness/will run you through/all the kids are laughing/I’m laughing too.”

Despite the lyrical shift, “Heaven” isn’t saccharine and continues to challenge listeners. And Leithauser says no profound change has suddenly made the group’s creative process seamless.

“I know we have this reputation as being somewhat well-adjusted, but recording music and touring is still be very hard for us,” Leithauser says. “It’s strange how some things come together. I would have never thought we’d be able to put out albums as consistently as we’ve been able to.”

The Fillmore shows mark the fourth and fifth San Francisco appearances by the Walkmen in just a year. Leithauser says the group always has had an affinity for The City: “We have a lot of early tours where we played a bunch of empty shows. But we’ve always had a really strong following in San Francisco. It’s a great place to play.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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