Vampire Weekend, The Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA – 9/25
The Greek Theater consistently puts on some of the best concerts in the country and this night was no different as Vampire Weekend played to an almost sold out crowd. The meteoric rise to fame that Vampire Weekend has seen is enough to send some people off the deep end but Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baiothe seem to be taking it all in stride. With only two albums of material under their belt, you can be fairly certain of what songs you are going to hear when they step on stage (hint: all of them). Still, this didn’t stop them from delivering an amazing, infectious blitz of afro-pop hits that shows a band that is in the game for the long haul.
After two opening bands, the guys bounded onto the stage at exactly the scheduled time. Punctuality is not a very “rock and roll” trait but you get the sense that this group is not your average rock band. I’m pretty sure you won’t find many bands that even know what an ‘‘Oxford Comma” is much less have mastered a poppy, groove-filled set that leans as equally on African rhythms as much as on stringed chamber music. The show opened with the song that pretty much defined the rest of the night, “Holiday.” From the opening notes, the band engaged the audience and showed a charisma and stage presence that seemed well beyond the musicians’ years. The set weaved throughout the band’s albums and even included a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Going Down.” Koenig’s voice swooped around the lyrics in a yelp that would make Graceland era Paul Simon proud.
The band so far has made a career out of the same sounds and tones. This has the unfortunate effect of making many of the songs sound similar. However, when you have an enaging, appealing sound to begin with, it’s not such a big deal.
Plowing through hit after hit, the crowd ate it up, with even the rare crowd-surfer rolling across the floor. The baby-faced frontman, Koenig, provided the standard patter about Berkeley and how great it was to be back in the Bay Area. The set rocked the old, columned Greek theater with all the great tunes that have been on the radio, such as “Campus”, “A-Punk”, and the “ The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” as well as deeper album cuts like “M79” and “Taxi Cab”.
It’s hard to capture the aura of an album on the stage, live. Vampire Weekend may play the same songs but each time it’s with a sly wit and energy. I was a little skeptical that the band was going to bring anything but a rote performance of the album to the stage. However, from the first tune to the four song encore, the band seem to hit new peaks and find the heart of each song. The excellent acoustics of the Greek made Koenig’s vocal work soar through the Berkeley night and the band was as tight as any group could hope to be. The band puts on an excellent show and even though they are only two albums in to their career, it seems that they will be around as long as they want to be. Many bands have a great first album and stumble on the second. Vampire Weekend showed a maturity on their second release that also appears on the stage. You can’t ask for much more than a note-perfect set delivered with authority and confidence. Vampire Weekend provided that and never forgot that it’s supposed to be fun.