Usually, when I write these things, there’s an air of mystery, or at least a lack of ubiquity, surrounding the artists. With Vampire Weekend, all that is pretty much out the window. A supremely talented band from New York with about as much clout as any only two albums in, these Columbia graduates exude a sense of poise that goes far beyond “buzz band” and strikes firmly in the center of “established heavyweight.” So when I signed myself up to write about them, it required a different approach.
To make matters worse, they played at Red Rocks. It’s the premier venue in Colorado. It’s one of the most recognized places in the country. And with eight thousand other rabid fans in attendance, there’s very little I could put down that would make heads turn.
When the band’s debut album started making waves, I couldn’t seem to catch them. Poppy, highbrow alternative rock with lots of organically produced bleeps and bloops turned me off a lot more often than it turned me on; that whole “buzz band” thing made a lot more sense back then. Yet when the band’s sophomore effort, Contra, came into the picture, all of that changed. Since the beginning of 2010 it’s been high on my list of the year’s best records, not so much for the songs themselves but for the way they were crafted. Those jejune bleeps and bloops became crisp, confident jangles; the highbrow lyrics turned introspective and prophetic; singer Ezra Koenig’s voice evolved into something of a spectacle, with all those warbling, honest falsettos.
Onstage, in front of those eight thousand rabid fans, those improvements were not lost. Squirmy, fast-paced tracks from Contra found a new intensity. “I Think UR A Contra” (which the band suggested it had only performed live once before) felt even more hopelessly candid than it does on tape. Even deep cuts from the debut became shining examples of a band that’s transcended shtick and proven itself a worthy recipient of the praise its been given.
I’m going to keep it short and try to stay out of Koenig’s pants, though it isn’t easy considering how much I appreciate what I saw. The post I wrote about Jónsi a few months back is probably going to remain unmatched in its unabashed lauding, but to anyone willing to forego the bullshit about this band and its apparent stigma, I would say this: they’re going to get better. Do you like Vampire Weekend? Maybe not. Do you respect them? You damn well should.
Vampire Weekend – ‘I Think UR A Contra’ Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater