I Don’t Want to Live this Way but I Don’t Want to Die
Vampire Weekend played Madison Square Garden on Friday Sept. 6. It was the largest audience that Vampire Weekend has ever played, with an attendance of 19,000.
After 10 plus years of the band, I wondered if they are still relevant. They started with their 2008 eponymous debut album as recent graduates of Columbia University, which included indie hits such as “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma.” The latter was so culturally successful that the term has become part of the lexicon. People will talk about it or write about it on their dating profile without even knowing how it became “a thing.”
They encapsulated their brand that is Ivy League country club. They had the vibe of children who attended St. Paul’s School (SPS) and whose parents listened to 1980s soft rock that incorporated elements of African “world music,” such as Peter Gabriel’s “So” and Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” (Let’s save the discussion of cultural misappropriation for another time.)
This continued in 2010 with Vampire’s Weekend’s second album “Contra,” where the band was sued for using a cover photo of a woman from the 1980’s who looked like she could have attended “Beach Week” with Brett Kavanaugh.
Gone are the boys in their early 20s, now they’re men in their mid-30s. Now, standing in front of me were three of the original four; plus other musicians that I had never seen before. The band is actually now about seven people, though the original three are the central attraction. Their adopted homes are no longer Morningside Heights or Bronxville. It’s now (of course) Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
Their latest album, “Father of the Bride,” seems more like the next installment of the first album than a follow-up to their second or third. It could have been titled “Preppy Kid Gets Married.”
Getting down to the show itself, it was kinda like to going to the birthday party of a rich kid in elementary school: you could tell the parents put a lot of money into the party and you come home with a gift bag. Before the concert, you received a bracelet that would glow in three different colors, either by manual settings or Wi-Fi. Towards the end, they released beach balls so the audience could play.
The three original band members came dressed as three different genres of rock history. Lead singer Ezra Bridger… I mean Ezra Koenig… (sorry, Ezra Bridger is from Star Wars Rebels; they look so much alike) came out dressed as Elvis Presley. He wore his usual baggy pleated slacks and big guitar. For some reason he talks like a 1940s tough guy, which is maybe an homage to Frank Sinatra. The bassist, Chris Baio, dressed and moved like Paul Simonon, the bassist of the 70s punk group The Clash. Chris, who likes to be known as “Baio,” is the cousin of Number 1 Trump supporter Scott Baio. Lastly Chris Tomson, the drummer, who looks like a guy with a lot of feelings and who maybe has a good relationship with his mother, came out dressed like any California surfer band from the early 1990s.
The band played for over three hours and took requests from the audience. I was impressed that they extended and riffed on their music. It reminded me of old U2 concert films from the late 1980s and 1990s. This was really wonderful because you were not just getting tracks from their album exactly as you know them. Instead, it felt alive and spontaneous. I was not expecting this. They could have easily been a really good country club band playing MSG.
If you are familiar with their work, the setlist seemed to focus on their first album and their 2013 release, “Modern Vampires of the City.” “Father of the Bride” didn’t seem to be a focus of the show too much; although one of the best performances was of their first single “Harmony Hall.” It sounded much bigger and fuller live. (Harmony Hall is Columbia University dorm on 110th street. I went to a Dim Sum making party there once.)
Ad finem, it was a really great show. One of the best I have seen. And I really wasn’t expecting that. Ah, Vampire Weekend: Zion doesn’t love you; the motherland don’t love you, but you love everything.