On Thursday April 29th, Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre was hit with a potent dosage of Vampire Fever. This wasn’t due to an early screening of the latest instalment in the Twilight saga – though the throngs of high-pitched barely-pubescent girls could have made you believe otherwise. No, the frenzy was caused by none other than New York-based indie rock sensations, Vampire Weekend. Hot off the release of their much-awaited and -hyped sophomore album, Contra (QRO review), Vampire Weekend decided to make the long trip down under, and graced New Zealand’s shores for the first time ever.
Vampire Weekend is unquestionably an acquired taste. Many said that their debut was simply an over-ambitious imitation of Paul Simon’s Graceland, penned by a crew of post-collegiates far too convinced that they’re clever and quirky, with a presumably superficial understanding of the African sounds they were stealing. And the band’s preppy smugness undoubtedly rubbed many people the wrong way. So Vampire Weekend seem limited to a small group of listeners. People who enjoy music with lyrics that may require a dictionary to decipher; music that features rhythms from around the world – in short, Vampire Weekend appeals to an audience of intelligent and cultured individuals – and a few young girls that think the Brooklyn boys are ‘so’ hot.
And this was more than evident at Thursday’s gig. Loafers, button-up shirts, clean-shaven faces and well coiffed hair, and the odd ironic pair of clear lens glasses – Vampire Weekend’s audience for the most part resembled that of front-man and guitarist, Ezra Koenig. In fact, many times you could hear overtly eager girls gushing, “Oh my god, you look just like Ezra!” – but perhaps this was just a pick-up line.
The doors opened a half an hour late and the excitement in the air was infectious. Taking up a position towards the front of the stage and beginning the long wait, chatted to a few people, made a few new friends, and subtly tried to push forward. Unfortunately this endeavour was in vain, due to a line of girls who had made it in before everyone else. One audience member tried to secure his spot, by reaching out and grabbing onto the front barrier. He was forced to let go, after his hand was scratched, mauled and yes, bitten by the feisty youngsters. Vampire Fever is a maddening condition after all.
Finally the opening act casually set up on stage, and proceeded to perform an unmemorable and sub-par selection of songs. Knives at Noon, a Dunedin alt-electro outfit, were far too under-qualified for this position and their inexperienced showed. Though their interesting blend of synth-rock did evoke some audience engagement.
And then Vampire Weekend showed up.
Greeted with deafening applause and insane yells of adoration, clean-cut Koenig seemed rather surprised at the response. A huge screen-printing of Contra‘s album art, the passive and slightly hazy face of a Ralph Lauren adorned woman, was lowered down from the ceiling, and the band began.
They were preppy, gangly, and boyish, yet looked completely comfortable onstage. There was much debate in the crowd as to which song Vampire Weekend would open with; opinions were wildly varied – yet the majority hoped that the band would choose multi-textured Afro-pop joy, “White Sky”. Prayers were answered, and as Koenig launched into the falsetto yelps, all worry that the band would not live up to all the hype vanished immediately.
It’s hard to say which songs stood out the most: From “I Stand Corrected” to audience favourite “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (complete with its Peter Gabriel namedrop), Vampire Weekend sounded well oiled, happy to be there and utterly brilliant.
“A-Punk”, arguably Vampire Weekend’s most mosh-able tune, was met with massive approval and installed a ruthless and reckless abandon in even the most docile of audience members. “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” underlined Koenig’s incomprehensible yet meticulously calculated lyrical style – fusing together words into sentences that, when strung together rarely make any sense to anybody except him. Koenig writes lyrics that would serve him very well in a game of Scrabble – they would be cloying if not sung with such relish.
“Taxi Cab” saw bassist Chris Baio exchange his Rickenbacker for a cello, and had drummer Chris Tomson banging on an electric drum pad – this led to an electrifying and hypnotic experience. And the baroque keyboard progressions of “M79” paid homage to the band’s classical influence. Koenig introduced Contra‘s most raucous number, “Cousins”, as “a song about a very important group of people.” Despite clocking in at barely two minutes, “Cousins” had the whole crowd bouncing along to the frenetic surf-pop guitar runs.
Another highlight was the exceptionally deft segue between “Campus” and the grammatically themed “Oxford Comma”. As the closing notes of “Campus” suddenly turned into the very familiar piano chords of “Oxford Comma”, the elation level in the audience went up a full level. But then the band ended rather suddenly with Koenig simply stating, “That’s all.”
Of course barely seconds after the band’s exit, a chant of “we want more” and “encore” erupted from the crowd. And so Vampire Weekend returned and played an extremely satisfying encore of “Horchata”, “Mansard Roof” and finisher “Walcott”.
All in all it was an excellent and unforgettable night that, save for one crowd-surfer turned stage-intruder, went according to plan. As Koenig graciously exited the stage, he left us all hopeful when he said “see you soon” – certainly hope so.