Live: Vampire Weekend, Not Sucking

Live: Vampire Weekend, Not Sucking

If you want to destroy their sweaters... (Photo by Rob Trucks)

Vampire Weekend + Plastic Little + Aa Bowery Ballroom January 30, 2008

Vampire Weekend are not stars yet. Or, rather, they don't yet carry themselves as stars, which is more or less the same thing. Vampire Weekend is arguably the most hyped and divisive new rock band since circa-2001 Strokes, but I can't imagine those early Strokes shows were anything like last night's VW record-release shows at the Bowery Ballroom. Part of that is because of the nature of blog-hype shows in 2008. When a band becomes a buzz-band, half the people at any given NY show go there to say they were there and to indulge their curiosity, which is understandable but which doesn't make for a particularly exciting show. (Also, distracting fourth-rate celebrities! The guy from Chromeo in this motherfucker! Matt Pinfield in this bitch!) So even if the first four rows of spectators spend the band's whole set dumbing out, as they did last night, a show loses something when the people in the back start a steady exodus out the doors at the half-hour mark. It's hard to feel like you're in on the ground floor of something when that's going on, and that's not the band's fault. But Vampire Weekend also don't carry themselves with anything like the glazed swagger of the Strokes, a band that resembles them in plenty of ways that other critics have already pointed out. Between songs, they're earnest and halting, grinning dizzily at their friends and nodding sheepishly toward everyone else. Part of this band's charm, I guess, is that they sound like a band created to entertain themselves and their college friends, but at a certain point (like, say, when non-industry types start paying attention), they're going to have to knock that off. Ezra Koenig only made one near-fatal mistake at last night's show (eliciting massive boos by dedicating "Boston" to "our neighbors to the north in Boston," absolutely not something you want to do a few days before the Giants play the Patriots in the Super Bowl), but they had to do something more to make last night's show feel like something other than a pretty good show, and they didn't, or couldn't, do it.

Still, it was a pretty good show. That's largely because they write great songs and play those songs very well. And so maybe "M79" and "I Stand Corrected" lost something without their sprightly strings, but the wiry surf-guitar runs in "Mansard Roof," which I never really noticed on record, seriously impressed in person. The second of the two new songs they played, the one about California and reading Thrasher magazine, was a couple of pickitups away from being full-on fourth-wave ska, which was fine with me. The ineffable bangers on the self-titled album ("A-Punk," "Bryn") sounded even tighter and springier live, the band recreating their liquid guitar-lines and jittery beats with precision so absolute that it seemed effortless. And it's always a good sign when a crowd is audibly singing along with deep cuts from an album that had just seen commercial release the day before, even though nearly everyone present had probably just downloaded the thing whenever. By the end of the summer, this band is probably going to be playing much bigger venues, and they'll have hopefully spent enough time honing their show on the road that they won't seem so much like kids anymore. As it is, they don't much look like a band capable of changing the universe, though maybe they sound like one.

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Voice review: Mike Powell on Vampire Weekend's Vampire Weekend Voice review: Julianne Shepherd on Vampire Weekend's Vampire Weekend Voice feature: Kevin O'Donnell on Vampire Weekend

Also: what a weird an inexplicable triple-bill they headlined. For openers, Vampire Weekend picked two bands who come from scenes with which they have less than nothing in common, bands their audience was all but guaranteed to hate: Brooklyn art-punk bashers Aa and friends-of-Diplo Philly gallery-rappers Plastic Little. And, I mean, I like all three bands, so I'm not going to complain about their selections. But given that the show had been sold out forever, it was pretty depressing to see Aa take the stage in front of maybe twenty people early in the night. There's plenty to like about Aa: they're named after my favorite Crass song ("Big A Little A"), they employ a sort of awesome homemade light-show made out of, like, bug zappers, and they rock an apocalyptic tribal post-punk style like a baby Boredoms. That they put so much energy into their all-drums spectacle almost made the whole thing sadder. When the three-drummer/one-synth-screamer band gels into a barked lockstep rhythm, they can almost verge on Professor Murder-type dancepunk. Most of the time, though, they wailed epically in the sort of monolithic noise-dude way that seems guaranteed to put off a crowd that had come to hear taut indie-pop. Aa are a great band, but they're a great band built for Bushwick warehouse-parties. They would've looked out-of-place on the Bowery Ballroom stage even if most of the early-arriving crowd hadn't opted to politick in the downstairs bar rather than watch them. No hype blowback for these dudes.

Voice feature: Mike Powell on Aa Plastic Little, meanwhile, took a different route: actively seeking to antagonize the crowd, in time-tested asshole-punk fashion. Taking the stage to "The Final Countdown," they started out ironically defiant: "We're here to rap tonight. That's what we do. We're rappers." Plastic Little are exactly the sort of hipsters who live to make fun of other hipsters and of themselves, which is why they'll never get Kid Sister blog-love even though they're better rappers with better beats. Last night's show, needless to say, offered them plenty of subjects. My favorite moment, between songs, one of them pointing to someone in the crowd (I'm paraphrasing): "Careful there, dude. You almost just danced by accident." They went so far as to intentionally sabotage the one track that the Vampire Weekend crowd might've liked, "Get Close (King Honey Remix)." As soon as the obvious sample of the Cure's "Close to Me" came on, one of them started asking questions specifically designed to piss off Cure fans: "Is this Steely Dan? Is this Chicago? Is this Yes?" Most of the time, this extreme assholishness was funny. Sometimes, it absolutely wasn't. "Someone shoot your girlfriend or I'm leaving," said someone between songs. Even for absurdist joke-rap satirists performing in front of an audience they know will hate them, it's a good idea to draw the line way before you get to domestic-murder humor. Just a thought.

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