Vampire Weekend Prove Anthemic at the Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review
(Saturday, Sept. 28)
Music's indie darlings return to the legendary venue for a 80-minute set on its non-stop "Modern Vampires of the City" tour.
After performing at every music festival imaginable (see: Coachella, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, South by Southwest), Vampire Weekend brought its show back to Hollywood Bowl on a pristine fall evening.
The New York indie rock outfit has had a lot to cheer about in the past few months, notching its second No. 1 album with critically hailed third full-length, the mortality-laced Modern Vampires of the City -- “it really does feel like the third chapter in a book,” frontman Ezra Koenig said in a February interview -- and teaming with Boardwalk Empire star (and bassist Chris Baio’s distant relative) Steve Buscemi for a rollercoaster Tribeca Film Festival closer. It’s no wonder, then, that when Vampire Weekend took the stage at nearly half past 9, an exultant soundtrack blared across the hill signaling an awareness of its success.
“This is the first real L.A. show since our album came out,” Koenig said during one of his rare exchanges with the crowd. “Can you believe it?” It didn’t matter. Stepping out in a black jumpsuit rolled up at the ankles, a white polo peeking through, and immaculate white sneakers, Koenig seemed to make an attempt at doing away with the preppy Ivy League perception that abounded when the foursome broke through as young twentysomethings -- even if temporarily.
Kick-starting the 80-minute jaunt, the up-tempo “Cousins” from 2010’s Contra -- Vampire Weekend’s first Billboard 200 topper -- paved the way for a buoyant set, featuring a good eight tracks off its most recent release. Crowd-pleasers ran the gamut, from “Diane Young” and “Horchata” to “Oxford Comma” and "A-Punk," one of the band's first signature tracks and a clear favorite.
At times, Koenig seemed almost nonchalant, with a hand buried in his pocket as he effortlessly worked his way through “A-Punk,” a fascinating sight to behold while the Bowl crowd engaged in a unified head-bopping party. Or, perhaps, he and his groupmates -- Baio, Rostam Batmanglij (brother of independent filmmaker Zal Batmanglij) and Chris Tomson -- now in their late 20s, approached it like a Saturday backyard gig in the Hamptons, except 18,000 paying customers were there instead.
The most intriguing parts of Vampire Weekend’s set were the darker, less mainstream offerings: fast-paced “California English” ventured out of the wheelhouse of polished indie rock (“Everyone feeling good and warmed up now?” Koenig asked moments after), the moody ballad “Step,” the religious lyrical undertones of “Ya Hey” and the thumping beats of “Giving Up the Gun.”
In one of his more sincere moments of the night, Koenig voiced appreciation for the city of Los Angeles and its quick enveloping support, dating back to 2007. "We appreciate everything you've done for us," he said. "We'll never forget you," before the familiar beats of what's become its anthemic closing song, "Walcott," permeated the seats.
Vampire Weekend may not be the most outwardly giving band, save for Baio’s oft-entertaining send-ups on bass, but sometimes consistency trumps theatrics. And in this case, it matters much more.
Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder, whose Comedy Central’s Nathan for You is a Vampire Weekend favorite, put the audience on a ride of emotions during his prolonged intro to the band. Dressed like a Google employee, Fielder pulled his girlfriend onstage in what looked like a swooping gesture of marriage. A pitchy rendition of “Amazed” seemed to confirm it, only it wasn’t. Following a faux-argument that prompted a Tomson cameo, the Bowl -- ready to YouTube it all -- began to put two and two together. If the idea was to loosen up the crowd, it may have worked.
Prior to that, six-piece Beirut entertained with its signature world melodies for a steady 50-minute set. But where Vampire Weekend was peppy and at times fast moving, Beirut was not -- even if 27-year-old frontman Zach Condon declared that they were just going to “go for it.”
“Buenos noche!” Condon bellowed into the microphone as he and his band took the stage at 8 p.m. as if not to waste any time. It would offer a preview of Beirut’s easy-going demeanor; for instance, a praying mantis that had perched itself on accordion player Perinn Cloutier became a running gag. But any neophyte unfamiliar with Beirut’s foreign sound, inspired by Condon’s travels, would think it a European group, not from Santa Fe, New Mexico. And at one point, Condon paused to peer out into the thousands gathered, all the way to the back rows, stunned: “I don’t know why but I’m having a f---ing ball tonight.”
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