Gig Review: Vampire Weekend- 17.11.13 @ Phones 4 U Arena

By Joey Whitehead

In 2008, a low-budget stop-frame music video came out of four preppy New Yorkers fidgeting their way through a quirky, scramble-pop song called ‘A-Punk’. It was hard to visualise at that point that 5 years later ‘Vampire Weekend’ would triumphantly return to Manchester on the strength of a massively critically and commercially successful third album: ‘Modern Vampires of the City’. Vampire Weekend survived, and now flourish, because of their ability to fill a niche no-one else has thought of, out-competing contemporaries that vied in the same margins as them in the early days (see Born Ruffians….) and now diversifying with more mature themes and musical textures. They’ve found a sonic home somewhere between Peter Gabriel, Baroque chamber music and Ludacris, somehow making it sound consistently commercially palatable. Good going. On the night, the band walks on-stage to Drake’s ‘Worst Behaviour’, summing up the ethos of the band more than this review ever could. Stylish, eclectic and often genuinely funny. Also, there is a lot of irony in the fact plenty of “mu-fuckas” love them, contrary to Drizzy Drake’s wholesome message, and have loved them since their cherished self-titled 2008 debut. You can tell just from the composition of the crowd: Teenaged hipster-types. Middle-aged head-nodders. Lairy twenty-somethings. The appeal of this band is very broad indeed.

The band cut Drizzy off with the opening chords of ‘Diane Young’. A solid high-paced start followed by ‘White Sky’, old-school banger ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ and current single ‘Unbelievers’ transcending the bands three albums nice and early in the set. Everything is going swimmingly. The sound is incredibly full and rich, no doubt beefed up to fill the far-reaching crevasses of arena space. The source of the beef is revealed when a second of unintentional backing-track plays during preparations for ‘Step’. The track’s piano and choral melody was obvious and loud, prompting questions like, ‘How much of this are these actually guys playing?’, ‘how much of this performance is down to backroom technology goblins?’ and ‘is that harpsichord even real?’. Otherwise, ‘Step’ is hauntingly beautiful and the band reel off big songs like it’s going out of style. ‘Everlasting Arms’, ‘Cousins’ and ‘Campus’ nicely showed off the evolution of the band from blunderbuss hook-merchants to downright song-smiths. ‘A-Punk’ is curiously plopped in the middle of the set and is met by some pretty frantic arm-flailing, with the guys playing with the kind of zeal you would associate with a new single. The same can’t really be said for ‘Oxford Comma’ though as slack pacing makes it sound kinda tired and a lot of its character is lost. Frontman Ezra Koenig, known for his aloof and zany persona, is surprisingly warm and nostalgic with the Manchester crowd (the first ever UK Vampire Weekend show was at our very own SU) as they dive into early demo track ‘Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)’as some kind of symbolic gesture. Shortly after, the set is plunged into a sinister dark red for a fantastic performance of ‘Giving Up The Gun’, followed by another home-run ‘Obvious Bicycle’ to round off the main set nicely.  In the encore, Vampire Weekend go about as epic as they can in the final chorus of ‘Hannah Hunt’, setting up a nice debut-album 1,2 finish with call and response classics ‘One (Blake’s Got A New Face)’ and ‘Walcott’.

Vampire Weekend have no business headlining arenas. They exist in a world of falafel references, harpsichords and bizzare passages about Lil Jon. They do not play ‘Sex on Fire’ or ‘Mr. Brightside’ radio anthems and they avoid power chords like Nickleback-plague (a very, very real plague). Yet, despite a few teething problems, Vampire Weekend looked comfy on the big stage. “Are they now one of the biggest bands in the world?” I hear you ask. Maybe a bit premature, but by the time album 4 comes a-knocking don’t be surprised if that mantle is passed to the guys in the Kashmir sweaters.

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