Better Than: Jimmy Buffett. Way better.
Toward the end of their headlining set at Barclays Center on Friday night, Vampire Weekend took an abrupt left turn from “Don’t Lie,” a harpsichord-laden mid-tempo number off their third LP from earlier this year, Modern Vampires of the City, into Blur’s “Song 2.” They ripped into the song’s two grungy minutes without skipping a beat, so fast that much of the audience didn’t seem to know whether to start headbanging or keep holding their iPhones in the air. Before they had the chance to make up their minds, the band abruptly finished. “You get the idea,” said frontman Ezra Koenig, grinning.
See also: The People vs. Vampire Weekend
We do–kind of. “VAMPIRE WEEKEND SONG 2 WTF,” read one tweet, another “VAMPIRE WEEKEND COVERING BLUR. THIS IS NOT A TRICK.” People have a lot of ideas about Vampire Weekend: they’re Ivy League-bred cultural tourists, “avatars of bourgeois lameness” (thank you, New Yorker!), recession deniers, and, after their performance at Boston Calling, condemned by Twitter as the new Jimmy Buffett. But Vampire Weekend is a multi-faceted band, and a good one at that, which critics generally approve of–more universally after Modern Vampires–and other listeners adore. Still, the Vampire Weekend we know and love and hate risk being called out for cultural appropriation yet again, so it’s a good thing they did a damn good job.
Because Vampire Weekend may inspire these Deep Thoughts, but more importantly they put on a great show. At least some credit is first due to Solange, who took the stage before them and brought her own devoted, if less numerous, fan base. She’s usually pretty much the best thing ever live, but not at Barclays. The sound system that accentuated Vampire Weekend’s often-clipped execution gave her backing band’s bass lines and guitar phrases a harsh edge; and her dance jam “Locked In Closets” was jazzed up with some weird synth effects. It’s not really her fault–Solange cultivates intimacy when she performs (both in terms of sexiness and openness with the audience: “Nothing like performing half your set with your fly down, and no one said a goddamn thing,” she said after the sultry “Bad Girls”) and 18,000-person stadiums do not. It was a fine set, just not as fiiine as she could have been.
Seeing so many empty seats even after Solange finished, it was hard to have high hopes for Vampire Weekend’s turnout. In about 15 minutes, though, Barclays had almost completely filled up. Koenig and co. took the stage about half an hour later, the former in all white even after Labor Day and drummer Chris Tomson wearing a couple layers of sleeveless Nets jerseys, which he peeled off throughout the set. They knocked out explosive Contra cut “Cousins” first, which sounded great in all the ways Solange’s set had unfortunately not: each piercing drum roll, yelp, and riff hit as hard– jarring, even–as it should have. And “A-Punk,” its oi oi oi oi’s smoothed over with those flute verses, got the previously staid crowd to put their phones down and their hands in the air.
The old VM songs were great, but the concert’s best moments were from the recent past (except, of course, when they introduced “Blake’s Got a New Face” with House of Pain), which they executed with a light but careful, practiced step. “Unbelievers” was practically spiritual with its quick kick and piano breakdown and “Diane Young” felt like a strung-out throwback to the sock-hop. But when Vampire Weekend slowed things down, that’s really when the show picked up. The affecting “Everlasting Arms,” with its opening violins and bass thick with emotion, or “Hannah Hunt,” a light but still poignant non-ballad as only Vampire Weekend can do, worked best. They pulled off “Hannah Hunt” particularly well, enveloping the audience in the quiet moments with darkness, and reaching spotlights like outstretched arms.
Of course, by that point, they were already on their encore of a nearly greatest-hits victory lap, so it felt like there was nothing they couldn’t do.
Critical Bias: I kept thinking about Jimmy Buffett and John Mayer.
Vampire Weekend Setlist
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)
Give Up the Gun
One (Blake’s Got a New Face)