Concert Reviews

Last Night: Vampire Weekend and Abe Vigoda at the House of Blues

Vampire Weekend, Abe Vigoda
House of Blues
April 11, 2010

Better than:
That stomach virus that's going around, that's for sure.

The curtain was already drawn and the floor already packed by the time the four members of Vampire Weekend nonchalantly sauntered onto the House of Blues' stage last night, sheepishly waving to the crowd as the foursome was ushered in to roar of applause and a snippet of DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat" blaring over the sound system.

An odd choice of songs to welcome an baroque indie rock outfit with a flair for Afrobeat? Perhaps, in theory. In reality, however, it actually worked out quite well.

Even had frontman Ezra Koenig not repeatedly implored the audience to dance over the course of his band's 75-minute set last night--he even went so far as to announce the length of the songs he was about to play as a means of explaining how little effort it would actually take to participate in such a manor--the crowd appeared already primed for such a reaction.

Credit that much to the fact that this Sunday night performance from the ever-buzzing indie rock favorite was its first in Dallas. As such, the adoring crowd at this show provided the House of Blues an especially celebratory setting over the course of the night.

After all, it's been two years now since Vampire Weekend took over the national limelight with its self-titled debut smash. And two years, in this fast-moving indie rock climate? Might as well be a lifetime.

Except, wait a gosh darn minute, didn't the band play Rubber Gloves in Denton a few years ago? It did, actually. And, at one point in the show, during one of Koenig's many asides about how pleased he was with the reception his band was receiving in its first ever Dallas appearance, he remembered as much.

"Actually, one time a few years ago, we played a very poorly attended show in Denton at Rubber Gloves," he said with a bit of a laugh. For the first time all night, his words failed to elicit a deafening cheer. "Oh?" he continued sarcastically, talking to no one in particular. "You were there?"

Surely, few, if any, from this crowd were in attendance at the band's Thanksgiving weekend show in Denton in 2007, well before the band blew up at SXSW 2008 and became the media darling it remains today. But no matter. Might as well be a different band entirely.

Over the course of the past couple of years, Vampire Weekend has grown from the all-hype-no-punch act it appeared to be at SXSW 2008 and into a confident powerhouse collection of live performers.

And, on this night, the band showed its newfound prowess at each and every turn: Koenig, once appearing rather shy and overwhelmed with adoration on stage now revels in the attention, serving as a fine master of ceremonies, alternately teasing his audience with background stories about upcoming songs and rousing it up with tried-and-true call-and-response bits.

In-band producer and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij even got in on that act at one point, leading the crowd in a singalong to go with its eventual encore performance of new album Contra's lead single, "Horchata." But Batmangli, something of a production guru as the man behind the band's studio sound, remains the least engaging of the bunch on stage: bass player Chris Baio shimmied about with glee as he played; drummer Chris Thompson, meanwhile, feverishly hammered away at his kit behind the especially compelling Koenig, whose spirits were certainly high over the course of this night.

And why not? At the completion of each and every song performed in this equally Vampire Weekend- and Contra-infused set, his band was treated to the kind of reception normally reserved for royalty. To be fair, many of the performances merited that kind of reaction.  "Horchata" seemed especially lush on this night. New single "Giving Up The Gun," likewise, seemed especially punchy and driving. Meanwhile, old favorites "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" "A-Punk" and night-closer "Walcott" seemed as fresh as ever.

The sound was immaculate, too--an advantage opening act Abe Vigoda, with its new wave-influenced indie rock, was hardly afforded with the mix, which, for whatever reason, seemed turned down to at least a third of what it would be once Vampire Weekend took the stage.

As far as Vampire Weekend's performance, though, there weren't many--if any--complaints to be had.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think Vampire Weekend would be able to last even this long. The hype when it first burst onto the scene was overwhelming--unfairly so. And even though I still think the band's something of a one-trick pony--baroque afro-beat-infused indie-pop shouldn't, in theory, leave the band too much room for improvisation. But Contra's a great album. That one trick, turns out, is a pretty damn good one.

By The Way: The lone hiccup in Vampire Weekend's set came when Thompson broke his kick peddle during "Horchata." The band played it, though, laughing it off and joking about it to the crowd after looking around at one another wondering why their sound seemed off. Within seconds, the peddle was replaced and the band launched back into the song, right where it had left off.

Random Note: There were about as many Polo shirts as you'd expect to see at the show last night. Flip-flops, too, although, c'mon, wearing toe-less shoes to a concert? Amateur hour.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman