Vampire Weekend, Steve Buscemi Team Up for Hometown Show: Concert Review

Vampire Weekend live 2013 unstaged P
Getty Images for American Express
The New York indie heroes close the Tribeca Film Festival with a somewhat erratic gig -- and a cameo from the Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi -- that was streamed live across the world.

Vampire Weekend and Steve Buscemi might seem like odd bedfellows, but in the run-up to the finale of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York, both parties have been working closely together. Over the last few weeks, the tropical indie band and the idiosyncratic actor -- who, it turns out, is related to bassist Chris Baio -- have released a series of teasers and trailers in anticipation of Sunday’s big event: a live concert by the New York four-piece, directed by Buscemi and streamed live to a worldwide audience as part of the American Express Unstaged series.

While the trailers have been awkward and hilarious in equal measure -- just watch Buscemi, star of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, introducing himself to the band in the first episode, or flyering on the subway and around the city in subsequent ones -- the actual event was, unsurprisingly, extremely slick. And from inside the Roseland Ballroom, Buscemi’s presence or direction wasn’t even noticeable. Except, that is, when he appeared halfway through the band’s rendition of “A-Punk,” the celebrated single from their 2008 eponymous debut album. With his trademark awkward quirkiness, the actor paced around the stage while the band finished the song, then addressed the cheering crowd (among the famous faces in attendance: Zach Galifianakis, Seth Herzog, Jonah Hill, Jude Law and Fred Armisen, the latter who served as the opening act) with the demeanor of a proud relative. Which, after all, it turns out he is.

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That song -- and, indeed, that moment -- was one of the definitive highlights of a set that varied in energy, tempo and enthusiasm. Just a few weeks before the release of their third full-length, Modern Vampires Of The City, the band’s first proper concert in their home city in over two years allowed the four-piece to pepper the set list with no less than six songs from that forthcoming record. Of those, the never-before-played “Obvious Bicycle,” which started the encore, was a lovely, lilting expression of tenderness, while “Ya Hey” combined understated melancholy with intelligent quirkiness to produce a song that was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

While mostly chirpy and carefree, there were moments -- especially on their bigger, better-known songs -- when Vampire Weekend felt somewhat detached. To be sure, they’re not the most charismatic band live, so without a noticeable injection of onstage energy, the likes of “White Sky," with its Peter Gabriel-esque sparkle, and new song "Diane Young" lacked the conviction they needed to truly and objectively succeed in a live setting. It was all pleasant enough, but, as with “Holiday” and “One (Blake’s Got A New Face),” ultimately frivolous and perfunctory, sounding like a band trying to imitate their influences instead of build upon them. It didn’t help that, on the few occasions frontman Ezra Koenig addressed the crowd, he came across as somewhat wooden and insincere.

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When, however, Vampire Weekend managed to sound like themselves, their performance was vastly improved -- perhaps because, if even only on a subconscious level, they were giving more of themselves to it. “Horchata” got a new lease of life in this live setting, while “I Stand Corrected,” “Oxford Comma” and the sublime version of “Walcott” -- which, as it always does, brought the night to an end -- were noticeably full of the heart and soul that had been absent at other points of the evening.

All in all, the night was an ebb and flow of highs and, if not quite lows, then moments that simply became part of the background. Nonetheless, the vibe at the midtown venue was one of constant jubilation that served as a fitting way to lay the Tribeca Film Festival to rest. Perhaps, though, a live comedy skit with Buscemi wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Set List:

White Sky
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I Stand Corrected
Diane Young
Everlasting Arms
Ya Hey
Oxford Comma
Giving Up the Gun
Obvious Bicycle
Diplomat's Son
One (Blake's Got a New Face)

Twitter: @THRMusic