Amoeba Records, Feb. 4
It's packed. You maybe thought of coming down yourself, but if you did, you were way back in one of the clearance bin aisles, staring at row after row of mid-90s Sony alt-rock comps and Jane Child CDs. And that's if you arrived at six. Otherwise you're outside (Plus it's cold tonight. And really windy) waiting in line to see a band that's already started. No one inside is going to leave early, so you don't have a chance to get in there and see 'em play, but you're waiting anyway. Because, maybe?
I came early because I'm one of those worried people that still shows up at airports at least two hours before the plane leaves, and I thought I'd mill around for a bit looking for a Boomtown Rats CD beforehand. Instead I see the writing on the wall – Amoeba-stickered employees ruthlessly cut-off the center aisles already, so I take the bypass through World Music and cut to the Oldies section on the right.
Then we stand and wait… for a long time. It's so packed in the aisle that I can't even reach the big stack of Jerry Lee Lewis CDs tantalizingly in front of me, so I just re-read the back of the box of Rhino's Left of the Dial compilation grabbed from Box Sets aisle and notice that there's not one band from Chicago on there. That's sad.
I know that release dates don't matter anymore, but Vampire Weekend's debut album came out just one week ago – and this place is packed to the gills.
Vampire Weekend takes the stage with a good deal of modesty and shyness. It quickly becomes clear why their music is striking a chord with so may people. Yeah, it's just a four-piece set up with guitar, keyboard, bass and drum, but that skewed, chime-y, slightly African sound from Ezra Koenig's guitar really does sound fresh and wonderful, especially when mixed with Rostam Batmanglij's keyboard lines. Similarly, the drums and bass work together knocking out rhythms that aren't really foreign, not weird to the ears, just unusual enough to really stand out from everyone else. Drummer Christopher Tomson's beat doesn't seem to be matching up at all with what I see his sticks hitting – the beat is coming from his feet, and everything done with his hands is gravy. Flailing gravy, actually. He knocks the giant Amoeba logo off the red curtained wall and looks around like he might actually be in trouble.
A couple songs in I wondered if this slight alteration of the basic alt-rock sound is enough. Is it just novelty? Then they played a couple of killers back to back:
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and “M79” which also sit together on their album. If I can't make heads or tails of the lyrics I at least recognize that they're name-dropping Peter Gabriel and Benetton, and Koenig's voice is as sharply joyous as his guitar's sound. These are strong, excellent songs, and Vampire Weekend plays them like champs.
Sorry for the jumpy video at the beginning of this second song. The claustrophobia was really setting in by then. I thought I'd swing back out of the aisle and head upstairs to watch the last couple of songs, but the startled Amoeba-oids cut me off at every path – quite rudely in fact – so that for a minute I had a flashback to the grumpy folks at Aron's Records on Highland. I cut my losses and left, hoping one person in the long line might actually get to come inside and catch the last couple of songs.
Who knows? Did they flush out all the first crowd, let a few hundred more people in and play a brief little second set? I doubt it. And I wish I could tell everyone who didn't catch it that you didn't miss much: The hype is overdone and six months from now they won't be able to fill the El Rey. But that's unlikely. Vampire Weekend really is good and their March 20 show at the El Rey is already sold out. And I'm sorry it was so cold outside last night.