Reconstructed garage rock was all the rage at the turn of the millennium, but the newly minted Walkmen had something grander in mind. If garage rock's sense of heat and proximity evokes its environs, then The Walkmen's music--open, drafty and cool as marble--is more like ruined-cathedral-rock, suggesting high, vaulted ceilings and crumbling columns trellised with ivy.
The Walkmen's first two albums, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows & Arrows, evoked a blurrier Strokes with a beefier rhythm section or Joshua Tree-era U2 without the messiah complex. The former comparison is superficial, pairing well-heeled New Yorkers who play romantic songs of apathy and alienation.
The U2 comparison is more germane, though, and not just for the jangly guitars or for frontman Hamilton Leithauser's soaring rasp. Instead, it fits for the uncommon conviction of the band's performances. There's a thin line between confidence and self-importance, and, for U2, it might've been the rim of the ridiculous giant lemon they emerged from on their Popmart tour. But the Walkmen remain on the good side of that threshold, delivering their streamlined set with a poised aplomb that's often painfully absent in an indie rock climate marred by ironic self-deprecation and slacker aesthetics.
The Walkmen are touring off their slightly disappointing but solid third album, A Hundred Miles Off, a stripped-down effort that retains the band's characteristic shamble while focusing more on raw-boned guitar work than shimmering atmospherics, making Leithauser's chafed wail sound suddenly Dylanesque. Standouts include the brass-accented country strains of "Louisiana" and the dreamy Mazarin cover "Another One Goes By." But even songs that sound murky on the album resolve into sharp relief onstage, and they're bound to break out the efflorescent "Wake Up" or the seething "The Rat" for old-time's sake. Those alone are worth admission.
The Walkmen, Bobby Bare Jr. and Nathan Asher & The Infantry play at the Lincoln Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 13 at 9 p.m.