The past two years have been very, very kind to Vampire Weekend. Since the release of their self-titled, effortlessly cool 2008 debut, the Ivy League quartet have skyrocketed from rising indie stars to Billboard chart-toppers; their songs now frequent countless mall stores and coffee shops as well as college radio stations.
And, on the Rochester level, the band has gone from playing at The Bug Jar in 2008 to headlining a packed show at the Main Street Armory this past Friday.
Opening for the band was the California indie group Dum Dum Girls, whose set I missed (fellow CT staffer Caitlin Olfano informed me that their set was “dumb dumb,” for what it’s worth), and the dream pop duo Beach House.
Beach House, comprised of singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally (with two additional bandmates helping them out in concert), have also enjoyed kind fortune as of late with their newest album, “Teen Dream,” finally providing their breakthrough. The band reveled in this recent success by building almost all of their set around songs from “Teen Dream.”
As an all-too-literate interpretation of the shoegazey, meditative dream pop the band performs, the four members hardly budged during the entire set. But they at least had a stunning light show to make up for any lack of movement, and anyone that’s heard “Teen Dream” knows it isn’t exactly rush-the-dance-floor music anyway.
Beach House perfectly replicated the sublime nature of their breakthrough release and even went for sharper relief toward the end by pumping up their most popular song, “Zebra,” into the exuberant, stadium-sized hit it should be.
And then, after a brief wait, came Vampire Weekend, looking about as preppy and vibrant as any one of their songs would suggest. They instantly kicked things off with “Holiday,” one of the most cheerful blasts from a band that specializes in them. It was an appropriate start to an efficient, no-nonsense set that played just like the band’s two albums: cool, fast paced and fully gratifying.
Hell, the set wasn’t the only thing that was just like a Vampire Weekend album: so were all the songs. The band sounded almost exactly like they do on record, meaning this wasn’t exactly a show rife with jams, ad-libs or really any surprises.
Perhaps the closest thing to a truly unexpected moment was a cover song that I later discovered was Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” a song The Boss himself apparently doesn’t bother performing.
Did the straightforward performing detract from the experience? Not really. For one thing, the simple act of performing these songs live added some subtle changes to the band’s laid-back repetoire.
Their sound was looser, heavier on rhythm and sometimes a bit wilder — the furious strumming of the single “Cousins” bordered on hardcore for a few moments, and turning “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” into a call-and-response with the audience brought a whole new intensity to the song.
Also, it’s hard to really discredit a band that simply knows to give its fans the good, quick and easy. The set list consisted of every song from Vampire Weekend’s two LPs except “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” and “I Think Ur a Contra,” the melancholic finales to those albums. In other words, it was one long rush for die-hard fans — every single song was greeted with a delighted recognition rare for any concert.
So maybe there wasn’t anything especially memorable about the way Vampire Weekend performed any of their signature songs like “Giving Up the Gun,” “Campus,” “Walcott,” you name it. At the time, though, it was
totally exhilarating — it was a long experience of celebrating each song as it began, anxiously wondering which fan favorite they were going to pull out next, and enjoying everything in between.
Before “Mansard Roof,” one of the songs from the encore, frontman Ezra Koenig — who had previously been friendly and appreciative, yet terse when speaking to the crowd — recommended the audience hold their hands above their heads and wiggle for their fingers for this song, since it “makes you feel like you’re underwater.”
Not exactly the most logical comparison, but it was a ridiculously fun way to close things out.
A concert like this proves how, in a musical climate that makes new bands struggle harder than ever for success, Vampire Weekend have earned such an unlikely rise to superstardom: They understand the immense power of giving fans exactly what they want.
Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.