Vampire Weekend play it safe but fun

A review of Vampire Weekend at the Oprheum Theatre on April 1, 2010

, Staff Writer

2010 has been very good to Vampire Weekend. The band’s highly-anticipated sophomore album, Contra, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and their subsequent tour has been selling out venues well ahead of showtime. The quartet came through Boston last week, showcasing songs from their new album as well as a number of favorites from their first for a packed crowd at the Orpheum Theatre.

The show kicked off with “White Sky”, a bright, bouncy number that immediately set the tone for the rest of the evening. Ezra Koenig’s vocals are impeccable on the stage, projecting deep into the crowd, hitting all the high notes as he glided effortlessly between his regular voice and falsetto. They quickly jumped into “Holiday”, taking a step back from the heavy Paul Simon influence of the show’s opener. From there, Vampire Weekend got into some old material, including “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, which is apparently still their most popular song, considering the explosion of singing from an audience that, truthfully, was otherwise a lot less active than the music they were listening to.

Really, though, a seated venue just doesn’t do a group like Vampire Weekend any justice. This is music that demands to be danced to. To be fair, at least nobody was sitting down, but the chairs did make it hard for people to do much beyond bobbing their head and kicking their knees out. One highlight of the evening that did get people moving pretty was the band’s performance of “Ladies of Cambridge”, an earlier B-side, which as you might expect was very well-received.

This was a very straightforward show. In fact, I don’t think there was a single note of improvisation all evening, though Koenig maybe did a little trill here or there that wasn’t on the studio cut. The songs were fun to listen to, sure, but there were definitely moments that begged to be opened up, and it was disappointing to hear the band drop back into another verse without any kind of development. Granted, Vampire Weekend isn’t here to jam, but a safe, predictable concert does lose a bit of its luster, especially with a fairly lengthy set that stretched to around two hours.

The band gave a three-song encore to end the evening. “Horchata”, which opens the new album, was the only new song to be featured in the encore, though it definitely translated to the live stage very well: it grooves a bit harder, and the sound is just richer than it is on the CD. “Mansard Roof” followed, and was pretty forgettable when sandwiched between “Horchata” and “Walcott”, which was a suitably driving, victorious song to end the show with.

With Vampire Weekend, it’s very-much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get deal. They stick to what’s worked, and basically don’t delve from that formula. These songs are nonetheless incredibly fun to hear live, and while you won’t be hit by a musical tour de force, the songwriting is top-notch, and I’m sure in a general admission venue the show would become a pretty wild dance party.

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