CONCERT REVIEW Batting .500
Vampire Weekend is brilliant, but only half the time
April 1, 2010
My main issue with Vampire Weekend has always been that 30 seconds out of every minute of their music is pure genius. Doesn’t even matter which album, song, or minute.
Most bands struggle to fill an LP with 30 seconds of genius. Vampire Weekend does it effortlessly. This sucks, because then I’m left bitching about the other 30 seconds of every minute. Those other 30 seconds usually fail to deliver, end up feeling repetitive, or just get on my nerves.
I’ve been caught more than once screaming at my stereo, “Ezra, you went to Columbia, you’re smart enough to write a third effing part for this song. STOP BEING REPETITIVE.” This too is sad, because I really like their front man Ezra Koening. He’s smart, witty, and almost certainly a font snob. I like that he writes about grammar and the ennui of summering at the Cape. These are issues that concern me and I am very glad that Vampire Weekend addresses them.
We probably shop at the same stores too (www.jmclaughlin.com). I just prefer my pants a little less ass tight.
This brings me to the completely irrelevant crisis of whether or not I even like Vampire Weekend. It’s irrelevant because plenty of people love them. Important people. Spin named them the best new band of 2008 and NME gave their debut 42nd place on top albums of the decade — that’s Strokes and Interpol territory. Pretty lofty stuff.
I’ve been weary of these debut coronations before (e.g. Strokes and Interpol), but with Vampire Weekend coming into town last Thursday at the Orpheum, I decided to give them a chance to reconcile my feelings.
The worst of me always thought of Vampire Weekend as that kid in high school who referenced João Gilberto and liked dissonance too much. That was the snarkiest put down I could think of. (Second place came from my friend Aaron who said, “They’re like The Shins, but without melody.”)
At their best, well like I said, 30 seconds of genius. Batting .500 with punctuated rhythms, catchy hooks, and irreverently whimsical lyrics.
All this I mulled over, standing in the orchestra section at the sold out Orpheum. Surrounded by an audience straight out of the pages of Stuff White People Like, Vampire Weekend came out and played a 90 minute set split between their two LPs.
I have to say. They killed it.
The guy to my right held up his iPhone and knew every lyric. Then he proceeded to make out with his girlfriend for the encore. A group of graduate students the row behind swooned in time with Ezra’s on stage pelvic thrusts. The entire balcony sagged and rose under the weight of their bouncing cadre of extremely well dressed fans. Collared shirts galore.
By the encore, I’d forgotten why I could have hated them in the first place. Their songs had energy and verve. They were repetitive, but the circular rhythms and hooks became rallying refrains rather than tired iterations. And now listening to their albums again, I find that other 30 seconds of “meh” fading (I’m more 40/20 now). They still have their flaws, but I think I finally get Vampire Weekend.
Maybe it has to do with them being in their element, and with their audience. Someone has to make music for the Upper West Side, Cape-Cod-summering, study-abroad-Botswana crew. If Vineyard Vines can exist, why can’t Vampire Weekend?
Maybe their music will endure longer than all those bands that try to meld indie rock with [choose one culturally hip style: Afropop, Gypsy, Tropicalia]. I can’t explain why. It’s equally probable that in five years, it’ll be Vampire Who? But for now, it’s refreshingly fun watching this band on the ascent. There’s a spark in every song, every moment on stage. They’re living up to Koenig’s namesake and making it new.
If you want to give Vampire Weekend another go, I highly recommend their Takeaway show on Blogotheque: http://www.blogotheque.net/Vampire-Weekend,3840