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Concert Blog – Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend must have had a lot of fun at the St. Augustine amphitheater Oct. 14 — they made an impromptu appearance opening for The Flaming Lips the next night. Bitchin’. I’m jealous of every person who got to enjoy the bonus calypso-surf gems followed by Wayne Coyne and co.

But, I take solace in the fact I at least caught Vampire Weekend’s show on the 14th. They nailed just about every song and took some clever and refreshing liberties with things. Speaking of “just about every song,” they played all but two of the tunes from their two LPs.

The band took the stage doing their best goofy white boy impressions and dancing to a rap song I couldn’t identify — at least I hope those were impressions. There were no greetings, they just picked up their instruments and went straight into “Holiday” from their latest album, Contra.

There’s a lot of syncopated interplay between singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig and guitarist/keyboardist/compositional mastermind Rostam Batmanglij, and they nailed it live — especially the bridge, when the two take turns playing triplets so seamlessly that is sounds like one guitar. All the while Koenig sings, “A vegetarian since the invasion/ She’d never seen the word BOMBS/ She’d never seen the word BOMBS blown up/ To 96 point Futura.” Bonus nerd-points for singing about typefaces.

The crowd went shit-nuts when Koenig started playing the first notes of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa becasuse — of course — it’s everybody and their dog’s favorite song by VW.

Drummer Chris Tomson did a classy job of transferring the song’s hand drum rudiments to a regular set. His rack toms (the drums on top of the kick drum) were panned left and right in the house speakers so the crowd heard different parts of the drums coming from each side. Actually his drums got the treatment overall. There were some 80s-esque phased out drum fills and a lot of the lighting was synchronized with Thomson’s playing. The overall effect was great, though I was a little worried the lights during the more frantic parts of “Run” might have triggered a seizure.

When VW played “Taxi Cab,” it occurred to me that Batmanglij must have learned a thing or two while studying composition at Columbia University.

The song juxtaposes synth and electric drum pads with a baroque piano and string section to great effect, and the band pulled it off live. It was cool seeing bassist Chris Baio break out a Contra Bass and a bow to play the little staccato chords, which are so different from his normal style. The mixing was a little off and he was hard to hear, but at points where the rest of the band dropped out, his playing sounded crisp.

Amidst a solid set, “White Sky” stood out the most.

Batmanglij’s tastefully understated guitar fills — reminiscent of afro-pop influences like Hallelujah Chicken Run Band — were a little hard to hear, but he made up for it by playing some melodies that weren’t on the record. He took a little mini-solo, which was cool and unexpected. Koenig nailed the howling chorus. In fact, he delivered all the song’s lyrics –which sound like they could have been a Frank O’Hara poem — with a sincerity befitting the song’s conversational tone.

Something I noticed overall was that every band member sang harmonies. You don’t see (or hear?) that too often. Batmanglij sang more than I expected; he was a little off a couple times, but nothing terrible.

My biggest grief is that there was no string quartet. That looks kinda funny on paper, but its true. “Walcott” was pretty lacking without strings — though Koenig and Batmanglij filled out the sound — but hearing “M79” without that violin slurring 32nd notes at the end was just wrong. Considering the logistics of traveling with a string quartet, I’ll let them slide with a yellow card.

Vampire Weekend played with Beach House and The Very Best, though I was too late for both. I don’t know how Beach House got tossed in there among these upbeat, frenetic bands, but I bet the mitigated the concerns some may have had regarding the $25 tickets. Considering Vampire Weekend won’t be coming to Florida again soon, I’m glad I at least got to make it to see them.

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