There was no finer example of Vampire Weekend’s ability to walk a tightrope mood between pensive and propulsive than during its performance of hit single “This Life” on Sunday night.
Before a near-capacity Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, stricken with soporific summer heat, frontman Ezra Koenig and his bandmates sang words that, on paper, read like an existential scream: “But I’ve been cheating through this life/And all its suffering/Oh Christ/Am I good for nothing?”
The audience, split between a sizable pit, seats and the lawn, merrily sang along, bodies bouncing to the galloping beat, as the glittering guitar lines filled the air with major-chord melodies. Hearing a few thousand people exult in such sentiments — albeit against a gorgeously rendered sonic backdrop — is something to behold. Still, that finely calibrated mixture of joy and agony is a hallmark of Vampire Weekend’s sophisticated catalog, the latest installment of which, the sprawling Father of the Bride, lends its name to the tour that stopped in Irving on Sunday.
It was the first local Vampire Weekend performance in nearly six years — the last time having been October 2013 at Grand Prairie’s Verizon Theatre — and time’s swift passage was not lost on Koenig: “It’s been a very long time since we were in town, so we appreciate you coming out,” he offered midway through the two-hour set.
As if to make up for all those months away, the seven-member band (missing one of its founders, Rostam Batmanglij, who departed amicably in 2016) delivered a dazzling, kinetic showcase, touching on all four albums and doling plenty of favorites: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Holiday,” “Diane Young,” “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” all sent the adoring audience into spasms of singalong ecstasy. (The faithful, main set-closing cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” was merely the cherry on top.)
Koenig, clad in a pullover and shorts (it was a bit startling to see a musician sensibly dressed for the oppressive Texas heat), kept things moving at a brisk clip — including the extended encore, the set list stretched to nearly 30 songs.
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The additional band members, particularly the fiendishly talented guitarist Brian Robert Jones, helped render the fine-grained, poly-rhythmic textures of Vampire Weekend’s catalog with aplomb. What’s most fascinating about watching Vampire Weekend in 2019 is casting your mind back to 2008, when the band — then just four upstarts bursting out of New York City with a fistful of erudite pop songs steeped in world music and wise-ass asides — was one of a handful of indie-turned-mainstream acts capturing all manner of breathless hype and headlines.
In just a shade over a decade (a period during which, it should be noted, the band didn’t release an album for six years), Koenig and Vampire Weekend have practically lived an entire artistic life, moving from Next Big Thing to indie rock elder statesmen, this despite still being on a major label.
There’s room for Grateful Dead-style jams (“Sunflower” was a stunner), as well as a weight to even the most effervescent tunes now — “Mansard Roof,” the encore’s opener, still skips like a stone across still waters, but there’s an ever-so-faint weariness there too. Koenig, now 35 and having traded New York for Los Angeles as home base, also lets the heaviness of time reveal itself lyrically.
“Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth/Age is an honor — it’s still not the truth,” he sang Sunday during “Step,” and the realization hit like an anvil. The good times can feel wonderful and terrible at the same time: Exhilaration for the moment, and fleeting sadness for its brevity.