Vampire Weekend, The Joint, Las Vegas, NV- 9/15
It would be hard to fathom a scenario where Vampire Weekend could have disappointed the crowd at the Joint during their premiere Las Vegas engagement. The throng of teens and undergrads gathered on a Monday night mimicked the East Coast hipsters that helped catapult the band from frat house soundtrack to Next Big Thing. They literally played every song theyve ever recorded and possibly every musical note theyve ever wrote after introducing two new songs. This might seem an unspectacular feat for a band that didnt exist 3 years ago, but that doesnt make it any easier to swallow for the countless musicians with decades more experience still awaiting their first Saturday Night Live appearance or Spin cover. The whole affair took less than an hour, but as far as Sin City was concerned it was just enough time for the Columbia University buzz band to stretch 15 minutes of fame a few seconds longer.
Preaching to the converted while secretly praying they all hold over whenever a new album drops, the event felt more like a recital than a buzz band rock show. That should come as no surprise as their album resembles a carefully plotted opera as much as it does the indie rock and Afro-beat records that influenced it. Vampire Weekend opened their show just as their debut disc begins, with Mansard Roof, a song about architecture signaled by a quick synth flourish by multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. They followed in rapid succession with a song about college (Campus) and the first of multiple sing-alongs about coastal Massachusetts, hit single Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. While leading a crowd through rhyming Louis Vuitton, reggaeton, and Bennetton might be considered an advanced maneuver, frontman-in-training Ezra Koenig pulls it off, bouncing around in between verses without ever unnerving his tucked-in yacht-club apparel.
The new songs fit in seamlessly with the album tracks, although one featured a yelping wordless chorus that would have been better served by another keyboard fill, or reference to Jackson Crowter like the pleasant M79. As the show progressed the energy heightened, peaking with a soaring run-through of I Stand Corrected that could have sent the crowd soaring further with some element of improvisation. Batmanglij and drummer Chris Tomson, in particular, hid behind their apparatus like sheepish session musicians given sheet music on the bus ride to the gig. While the band has only existed for 2 years, it shouldnt take away from the fact theyve played the same twelve songs for 2 years. In a town that knows a thing or two about star power and theatrics, it wont get fooled again by a straight retelling of the same old Vampire Weekend story next time their tour routes through Las Vegas.
It would not have been a hard sell to move the party and its goers to a nearby grassy quad or backyard, somewhere less conspicuous than the cavernous hall playing host to more experienced acts Lindsey Buckingham and Foo Fighters later in the week. And perhaps the band wouldve preferred it, as several times Koenig apologized and seemed genuinely embarrassed by the groups lack of catalog depth. Its not his fault his music connected with the masses faster than he could write more, but they can still hang their collective hat on a select few burgeoning live anthems that will appeal to live rock music fans.
Everyone knew by process of elimination the rollicking Walcott, one such upbeat anthem full of tinny African guitar, would be the encore. Even without any pretense of setlist spontaneity, the tune impressed as they tinkered with the arrangement, hosted another sing-along, and almost jammed out the ending before wrapping up exactly as it was supposed to. At this point bassist Chris Baio and bandmate Koenig had let go of any inhibitions and hopped around more than any of the previous numbers – either an early harbinger of a future stage-confidence or a bunch of guys eager to get off-stage and hit the slots. Whether they ever get used to playing theatres, or theyre back in a frat house, in the short-term Vampire Weekend appears predestined to continue to put tread on the twelve songs that made them famous, playing for the kids that will ultimately decide their fate.