Vampire Weekend plays crisp St. Louis show
Sep. 14, 2008
Doesn't it feel like Vampire Weekend has been around forever now? Like you used to have them over to the crib back in junior high for fancy tea while you all compared notes on sweaters and crunk rap? But yes, the boys in Vampire Weekend, already both one of the biggest success stories and victims of the musical blogosphere, have only had a proper album out since January of this year. Their self-titled debut couldn't have even had its own Peter Gabriel-loving babies yet.
Point being, it's easy to forget that the boys can fit every song they know into the run time of "Gigli." But there's something genuinely earnest about the fact that they let you know that ahead of time and then actually play each song with a few words to go with each.
Vampire Weekend played St. Louis for the first time ever Sept. 10 at The Pageant and Ezra and co. did not take this task lightly. This was the second time I'd seen the band live, and in comparison to the first time, Ezra was downright chatty. He seemed to take the idea of winning over a new city and a new group of fans very seriously, sharing quips about the arch, the venue and the diminishing levels of Polaroid film in this world. Maybe this was also his way of making up for wearing boating shoes in a landlocked state.
The music itself was, in a word, proficient. They are quite possibly the cleanest sounding live band I've ever heard. Besides possibly Spoon, there isn't another rock band I've seen replicate the sound of their album as distinctly as Vampire Weekend. This is for the most part a good quality. When they started their set with "Mansard Roof," incidentally the first song on their album, there were moments where you could have closed your eyes and imagined that you'd just slipped the disc into your car stereo. It sounded that good.
But then again, is it really worth $20 to essentially pay to hear your favorite album's sound replicated live? Some would say yes, but probably not an entire sold-out amphitheater. The band's sound is intricately simplistic, and this is certainly part of their charm, but it creates a certain dilemma for their live shows. Their brand of rock is certainly too soft and rhythmic to rely on solos and riffs of musical masturbation in their live shows. And only a few of their songs are danceable enough to make the show an all-out party. So while they obviously have these beautifully crafted pop songs that are as infectious as they are instrumentally impressive that in themselves are enough to carry an enjoyable and charismatic set, the band needs a certain something else beyond its direct musical realm to make it an overwhelming live presence.
It becomes apparent that at almost a year in now the guys are starting to cater to this. On both "Brynn" and "Campus" they play sort of a chopped and screwed live version (no, no literally) that does well to highlight their instrumentation and focus on Ezra's crisp vocals. But while I certainly like that they're trying to spice things up and diversify their set, it also feels like slowing down the songs robs them of the unadulterated fun that is Vampire Weekend.
Their true dance numbers, "A-Punk" and their extended encore of "Walcott," steal the live show. They create the quirky high-energy effect the band thrives on while duplicating the sing-along/dance-along choruses and verses that make the songs an interactive experience.
The other surprise show-stealer was a new track that seemed to capture the essence of the band on this night, apparently called "White Sky," that involved even more percussion than usual and an Afropop-inspired gleeful noise chorus. And when Ezra danced his even more spastic than usual sliding version of the awkward white boy dance to the sound of the crackwhip with a big goofy smile on his face, you couldn't help but smile with him and realize that sometimes it's the simple things in life that bring you the most joy.