(Original photo by Terry Filisetti Yoshinaga. Sampled graphics by Vampire Weekend)
There is a moment in the film Almost Famous when the band Stillwater ask young music lover William Miller what he thought of their latest release – his reply: “Incendiary!” There have been few times when I have TRULY felt this way about a band and Vampire Weekend’s joyous London return this Friday night was one of them.
In order to fully convey why this gig was so important, we need to take a trip back to 2013. Here we see 14-year-old Holly throwing up deuces with Ezra Koenig, a moment that would stick with her for years to come and partially make up for all the heartache that listening to Hannah Hunt on repeat had caused. At that point in my life (and honestly this is still kind of true) there was pretty much nothing I cared about more than indie guitar bands. My best friend and I would commemorate iconic Koenig tweets on banners and in the captions of our profile pictures, endlessly reblog content regarding the band on our far too active Tumblrs, and stay awake till 5am (on school nights!!) to live tweet their Coachella livestream.
As you can imagine, 6 years later I was slightly terrified of being disappointed by whatever route they took next. Would the new album have a distinct lack of harpsichord that signalled a complete departure from their earlier trio of albums? Dare I even speak out loud the possibility that Ezra might start wearing socks with his sneakers? Would Rostam’s exit from the band leave the music feeling like a chunk of its (and my) soul had been ripped away?! Sometimes I think I’ve moved into a period of my life when I can appreciate music for what it is and be a mature adult rather than an obsessive fangirl… then a band like Vampire Weekend decide to Kool-Aid Man style crash back into my consciousness and I have to face the fact that I have not really grown up at all in this respect.
Last night the stone walls of Islington Assembly Hall bear witness to a triumphant return where almost all the old staples of a Vampire Weekend show are present: a constant movement between high-energy tracks like ‘Cousins’ and ‘A-Punk’ to more poignant and earnest moments such as, ‘Ya Hey’, ’I Think Ur A Contra’ and new contender ‘Big Blue’; Koenig’s aura that persistently borders on almost arrogant levels of confidence and sincere and heartfelt appreciation; and Chris Baio’s funky dance moves that steal the spotlight during particularly notable bass riffs. With that being said, the band are tighter, more self-assured and simply BETTER live than they have ever been.
Following Batmanglij’s departure, Greta Morgan, Brian Robert Jones, Garrett Ray, and Will Canzoneri complete the live lineup and help welcome a fuller sound that enables the intricacies of the band’s back catalogue to really shine through – and also new tracks such as the multi-layered ’Harmony Hall’. Jones’s guitar especially stood out with the jangly tones that are so inherent to much of Vampire Weekend’s discography and shone even more during the breakdowns in between songs. There is a deeper, more confident sound to Chris Tomson and Ray’s drumming (they’ve upped their game with 2 drum kits!) that has an almost Phil Collins-esque presence to it in the echoic space. At one point during ‘Holiday’, Koenig forgets the lyrics but it doesn’t even matter because they are being sung back by the audience at such a volume that the song carries on without even a pause. Personally, when a band seems too well-rehearsed and flawless it can take away from the rawness and magic of live music and distance the band in a way, but fan participation such as asking us to fill in for the M.I.A sample on ‘Diplomat’s Son’ meant that there was no danger of this. Although they have not quite entered Phish jam band territory, extended instrumental outros for songs such as ’2021’ and ‘Big Blue’ (complete with a voice modulating tube for Koenig that inexplicably had us in stitches) prove that they are more than B-Sides. These moments were actually some of the best of the show where at points I found myself embarrassed by their videographer filming my friends and I with our jaws literally dropped in awe.
In a setlist chockfull of VW classics and their four newly-released singles, the band also flexed their deeper back catalogue pulling out surprises like ‘Ottoman’, SBTRKT’s ‘NEW DORP. NEW YORK’ that Koenig featured on back in 2014, and a cover of Springsteen’s ‘I’m Goin’ Down’ that they hadn’t played in nearing a decade. Closing out the set with ‘Walcott’ left us in a sweaty mess and buzzing with the same euphoria that we had back in 2013 and yes! I cried during ‘Ya Hey’ and YES I cried during ‘I Think Ur A Contra’ and although I am still heartbroken that they didn’t play ‘Hannah Hunt’, I admittedly may not have survived it so perhaps it’s for the best.
All this is to say, in the eternal words of @arzE “never giv up on ur dreams” and never give up on your favourite bands, especially if they are Vampire Weekend.
Vampire Weekend’s fourth album ‘Father of the Bride’ comes out May 3rd.
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
New Dorp. New York
I Think Ur A Contra
I’m Goin’ Down (Bruce Springsteen Cover)