Vampire Weekend, Beach House, The Very Best
October 6, 2010
Better than: watching the Yankees win another play-off game.
To understand just how good 2010 has been for Vampire Weekend, one can look at their trips this year through Dallas: Their first time through last April had them playing a sold-out House of Blues for 1,600 people; just a few months later, they're playing a sold-out Palladium Ballroom in front of 3,300 people.
Not too shabby.
And, from the moment the quartet took the stage in front of their newly-redesigned backdrop (the old one, which showed the cover of Contra, had to be dropped for legal reasons), the band left little reason to doubt that success.
Each song, starting with the opener "Holiday," received a rapturous ovation from the crowd that went beyond mere recognition and bordered on total adoration, and the audience was all too willing to participate when singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig initiated sing-along bits for "One (Blake's Got A New Face)" and "M79".
Such moves are usually attempts at keeping their older material fresh after years on the road, but Vampire Weekend seemed as vigorous and energetic as ever. Bassist Chris Baio bounced and danced endlessly around the stage, and Koenig did his part moving about and engaging with every audience member within eye-shot.
The music was also as fresh as ever, helped along by the Palladium's impeccable sound. "California English", off of their latest album Contra, was quickened far beyond the recorded version to a break-neck tempo, and "A-Punk" still brought smiles and knowing nods from the band members. Or, maybe they were just reacting to the 3,000+ people jumping in unison when they kicked off the song.
But seeing Vampire Weekend live makes evident some qualities that might be overlooked by casual listens to their albums. For all the attention their dabbles in world music get--especially Afro-pop--the fuel that still continues to propel their careers upwards are the ideas. On stage, they're just four young men with their instruments. OK, and maybe a few samples. But, without strings, or tribal drums, or the crutch of a recording studio, the power of their precise instrumentation and impeccable arrangements rings true and shows that maybe they deserve all the hype.
Wednesday's show at the Palladium was damn convincing.
The bill's two openers, The Very Best and Beach House, while not without their charms, felt tacked on. The Very Best released an acclaimed album, Warm Heart of Africa, last year which featured traditional African sounds with hints of western club culture. Live, however, the music was transformed into the opposite, with a duo sprinkling tracks from their album on top of hefty hip-hop and dance influences. That's not to say it was bad, just different.
Beach House appeared largely unchanged from their appearance at the Granada Theater earlier this year. Their performance pulled from all three of their albums, and was loud and powerful, but also a bit workmanlike.
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The big change was their stage set-up. Gone were brightly colored diamonds that hung from the Granada's rafters when they played last April, and instead there were large pyramids behind the players that looked like props you might see on a movie lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. They were cloaked in darkness for the entire set, never once showing their faces or allowing them to be lit directly, but where the presentation lacked in terms of entertainment, it excelled in creating a mood that perfectly accompanied their smokey, sometimes spooky, pop.
Personal Bias: I wasn't sure how the mix of Beach House and Vampire Weekend would work, considering the differences in their bands' sounds. But it actually worked quite well. There can never be anything wrong with seeing two great bands on the same bill, regardless of sound, can there?
By The Way: The Very Best's second-to-last song sampled MIA's "Paper Planes", which caused the band's biggest crowd reaction of the night. The sample looped throughout the whole song, only breaking through to the chorus towards the very end, causing half of the room's fists to be fashioned into guns, and pop in the air for every gunshot sound on the track. Pretty fun.
Random Note: Some guy decided that there weren't enough people paying attention to him, so he made his way to the back of the Palladium Ballroom between The Very Best's and Beach House's set to show off his poi skills. Considering how full the Palladium was, it didn't last for long. But, seriously, who does that?