Lead singer Ezra Koenig celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday in front of a sold-out, hyperactive crowd in the confines of Atlanta’s fabulous Tabernacle. But the usual birthday celebration it was not. Vampire Weekend – touring in support of their new release Contra – are on top of the world in terms of popularity. For such a brief existence (2006), the band has achieved success the likes of which most bands only dream (those who do reach it are much older with years of struggles). Named “Best New Band” by Spin magazine in 2008, Vampire Weekend never really had to struggle. And when Contra debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in January 2010, it was apparent that more than a few people loved this band.
To put Vampire Weekend’s sound into a category is difficult. They have been labeled, among other things, indie rock, world beat, chamber pop, and Upper West Side Soweto. However one may describe their sound, there is no doubt that it is kinetic, hyper, danceable, and highly enjoyable.
The band opened the show with the heavily-Paul-Simon-influenced “White Sky” from Contra. Next up was the ultra-manic “Holiday.” The crowd, already whipped into a seemingly uncontrollable frenzy, would not stop moving and jumping and singing until show’s end. Koenig’s smooth and likeable voice possessed great range and tone. On synthesizers, Mac, and occasionally guitar, Rostam Batmanglij has defined Vampire Weekend’s eclectic sound. He produced both albums and brings evidence of all those “labels” to the table. On drums, Chris Tomson adds to the speed of most songs, while bassist Chris Baio clearly feels the energy and apparently is no stranger to caffeine, dancing to every song as if he took lessons from Molly Ringwold. He enjoyed being there as much as the biggest fan. After finding each other at Columbia University, they formed the band that dresses Ivy League and looks like they’re forever trapped in 1980’s Massachusetts.
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” is a beautiful tune with the feel of the islands in the underlying groove. It is such a special song, in fact, that Peter Gabriel himself has done a cover of it. His name is dropped in it, after all (“But it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too”). On “A-Punk,” the terrific number from the first album, the boys give a nod to the Ramones (“ay, ay, ay!”). The 100-year-old Tabernacle was shaking with half the crowd jumping up and down during this one.
Opening the evening was L.A.’s Abe Vigoda, an indie rock band with gothy undertones who were a good fit in this slot. When lead singer/guitarist Michael Vidal broke a string and was gone for what seemed like five minutes, another band member told the audience, “He’s very sensitive. We all only have one guitar each.” Ah, the plight of the opening band. Overall, though, Abe was very well received and played some fine rock and roll selections to a house full of Vampire Weekend fans.