Check out Timothy Norris' photo gallery for scenes from last night's show.
In the schoolyard world of rock & roll, it's easy to see why Vampire Weekend gets picked on. Looking so meek, so intellectual, so teacher's pet, the band -- from suburban New York, no less -- looks the very antithesis of rebellion. They're more like an after-school study group than the most buzzed-out American band of the past few years. To posturing, jeans-and-Tee rock stars and the writers who love them, the temptation to dismiss these scrawny little East Coast pups is great. Motorhead would eat these guys for breakfast.
At the peak of their rise from blog-rock fame to NPR-rock fame, they annoyed me, too. Hated their V-neck sweaters and their deck shoes, hated their precious lyrics and their cultural imperialist guitar licks. I thought they had come up with a great shtick: the 00s version of the Kingston Trio.
But then, where would KISS be without the make-up? Where would Run DMC be without the Adidas and chains, Bob Dylan without his mussed-up hair and knit scarf, Lil Wayne without his face tattoo, Taylor Swift without her smile and flowing mane?
So Vampire Weekend are white dudes making white dude pop rock. So were the Talking Heads, and they were ripe and funky. Kraftwerk -- Germans! -- created some of the most important riddims in American hip hop. The list goes on, and how can we dismiss a band based on their fashion choices and genetic makeup?
So last night at the Fonda, the band celebrated the release of their eagerly awaited second album, Contra, a tight, poppy, rhythmic, wonderfully dynamic piece of work.
Drawing from the busy, polka-dotted rhythms of Africa and the tangle of crisp guitar lines of that continent's western coast, Vampire Weekend were a practiced, synchronized unit. They recalled a polyglot Feelies; where the latter 80s Jersey guitar band focused all their energy on streamlined groove, Vampire Weekend moved all over the place, offered a depth of rhythm and, yes, a dose of Wes Anderson quirk.
And like the jump that the Talking Heads had from their jerky debut, '77, to their more textured, Brian Eno produced More Songs About Buildings and Food, Vampire Weekend at the Fonda showcased rhythm while offering an honest love of sound and song, of melody and vibe, or harmonic surprises and ear-tickling invention. You could hear it on their opening song, "White Sky," from Contra: the band hasn't been slagging off. They've been studying. They've been practicing like the studious, Columbia grads they are. They've been disciplined and focused. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," which they've got to be sick of by now, rang true, and everyone sang along. For "California English," Koenig rocked the AutoTune on the mic, doing a frantic monologue/rap with a synthetic bounce and a crack rhythm.
The sold-out crowd lapped it up, sang along, bounced their heads and moved their butts. They had fun, within reason. (It's not exactly the moshing demographic, to say the least.)
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Vampire Weekend continue touring for the rest of 2010, basically. If they were tight tonight, on the first night of a long year, imagine what they'll be like in the fall.