Before the release of Vampire Weekend’s album Father of the Bride earlier this year, the idiosyncratic indie kings had been conspicuously absent despite their sweeping success at the outset of the decade. But for those paying attention, Ezra Koenig, the band’s talismanic front man, had been checking in.
There are, as I am writing this,104 episodes of Ezra Koenig’s Time Crisis, an internet radio show in partnership with Apple music where he discusses music and culture involving other associates, notably American painter and radio personality Jake Longstreth. These episodes typically run at about an hour and a half each. This means that I, for reasons we may never be able to fully grasp, have spent approximately 150 hours listening to Ezra Koenig and friends talk about Billy Joel and Doritos. I say this mainly as a disclaimer to let you know that I care maybe just a little too much about Vampire Weekend.
When Vampire Weekend last appeared with their 2013 release Modern Vampires of the City, we were in the dusk days of the era in which we as a culture still felt obliged to care about a group of lanky white men with guitars. However, in 2019, that hegemony has been so thoroughly toppled that its very idea seems quaint. Indie rock, in 2019, is not a concern, not to the popular consciousness; definitely not in the way it was at the beginning of the decade. So, who can blame Vampire Weekend for being anxious? They found themselves having been on top of the world, so utterly displaced now that that very world has been turned upside down. And if there is one word to describe Vampire Weekend’s new music, it’s anxious. Their new music, much like their old songs, isn’t so much singalong ‘friendly’ as it is engaged in a full on romantic affair with audience participation. While it is still jubilant and fun, the lyrics are insecure, masterful and always looking to the future with apprehension.
At Alexandra Palace, the 10,000 who shook the barricades certainly still seemed to care about a group of nervous indie rock artists. The crowd was radiating with excitement and sustained the vibe for the full four hours of the show. So how is it that after nine years Vampire Weekend are still selling out Alexandra Palace two nights in a row? For the very same reason that I have spent 150 hours listening to Time Crisis. The answer is partly, Ezra Koenig’s luxurious charisma. As soon as the band stepped on stage, the tension of the studio recordings melted away in front of a truly searing level of confidence manifested in his easy engagement with the crowd and his laid-back demeanor. It should be added at this point, that he also sported an incredible blue and white striped denim ensemble. Absolute king shit! (Furthermore, to the girl in the green white and blue Vampire Weekend bucket hat and matching green white and blue puffer jacket, I see you).
Secondly, the world class musicianship on display was enough to never let the set feel tired. The three musicians on stage with Koenig, drummer CT and bassist Baio, the remaining original members of Vampire Weekend, each delivered sensational performances. This ability to accent the band’s own significant abilities with talented collaborators is a consistent theme on the album as well. Considering that this album is produced to bits, in the best way, with samples from Muji background music, vocal distortion and iPhone recordings, it is not a natural translation to the stage. Nevertheless, those indispensable studio parts were present and what wasn’t there was never missed. There was enough new live material to make up for what was lost between Pro Tools and the concert venue. As a matter of fact, the liveliness of such a heavily studio-infused album was a major part of what made this tour feel like an event. Vampire Weekend clearly care deeply about the live aspect of their music as an experience distinct from their equally as valuable studio recordings. This was shown when Koenig exchanged words with one particularly avid fan in the front, who had been to both nights and asked the fan which night was better. The music and the lyrics are heavy, and saturated with meaning, but still insist that the audience engage. Few contemporary artists could manage to maintain such a taught relationship with the crowd for such a sustained amount of time. Yet, there is enough in the performance, to keep the attention of everyone in the room. Nothing but good vibes from the last rock band in the world.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor