Recently, my wife and I descended upon the City of Cows aka Columbus to see the now internationally known ivy league quartet Vampire Weekend. Taking their name from a film of the same title created by lead singer Ezra Koenig and his friends, Vampire Weekend's current tour did not make a stop in Cleveland. However, sometimes when the band won't come to you, you need to go to the band. Regardless of where Vampire Weekend plays, this was very clear: They were more than worth going out of my way to see and losing sleep for. These days, how many bands can you say that about?
For those who are not familiar with Vampire Weekend, here's a quick background: As students at Columbia, they started playing atypical indie rock music that has shades of soukous rhythm and is filled with (sometimes overly) clever literary referencese ("Oxford Comma"). Koenig's vocal delivery and the band's world rhythms will undoubtedly make you think of Paul Simon during his Graceland era – sans Chevy Chase and horns. To put things quite simply: These guys are the current kings of preppy indie rock. A throne previously occupied by the legendary Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen and, of course, Britt Daniel of Spoon.
As the lights dimmed, the group bounded on stage like a group of Tiggers (yes, I'm referring to Winnie the Pooh's friend) to the tune of DJ Kool”s “Let Me Clear My Throat” – a surprising intro song for them, although it is a wonder you never hear this song played at sporting events because it really gets a crowd going. Upon assembling on stage they we were met with thunderous applause and quickly launched into "White Sky". Shortly after, the backdrop was revealed, featuring a billboard-sized version of the cover art from Contra, the band's most recent release, and a series of elegant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, much like the one that adorns the cover of the group's self-titled debut album.
On this spring evening, the air was crisp with the smell of spring in the air. The crowd, having hibernated all winter, seemed to use this occasion as an opportunity to cut loose, knowing that soon we would all be back outside drinking, wearing flip flops and enjoying great music with friends. With the almost tropical rhythms providing the soundtrack to a memorable night out, it felt like one those shows where people might be hitting beach balls in the crowd.
The band ripped though 19 songs with the crisp precision and know-how of a surgeon who did not want to miss his next tee time. These guys were playing the sold out LC Pavilion that holds approximately 2,200, but I could clearly hear and see how they have the chops to sell out arenas – as they often do. They were polite, but not overly chatty. (The band and crowd had a distinct "moment", when Koenig offered this sage-like advice for one of his second cousins in attendance: "Whip-its are not kosher for Passover".
On this evening Koenig would also dedicate the song "Cousins" to all of his family in the house.Every time they reached out for more energy, the crowd enthusiastically responded, urging the band to give a bit more of themselves on adrenaline-filled pop bursts like "A Punk", "Campus", "Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)" and "Walcott", which they closed with. On numbers like these, there was a perfect cohesion between the energetic movements of the crowd bouncing with the rhythm of the song and the pulsating lights on stage.
It's never an easy thing to get a whole crowd of white people to dance (outside of a wedding, that is), but on this night, Columbus was dancing up enough of a storm to burn the place down. The last time I heard that many people attempt to sing along in falsetto (as the whole crowd did during "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "One (Blake's Got A New Face)") was when I saw Jersey Boys a few summers ago. [Photos by Jagrap]