"WE didn't get confetti," muttered a twenty-something girl in secretary glasses to her boyfriend, as they left the 2014 Governors Ball music festival on Sunday night (June 8) by walking across the RFK Bridge from Randall's Island to Manhattan. The walkway on the RFK overlooks the festival grounds and provides a terrific vantage point for the Honda Stage, which is where two-thirds of Swedish House Mafia, Axwell ^ Ingrosso ended their performance with the SHM smash "Don't You Worry Child." The EDM stars marked the occasion by blasting fireworks into the muggy night sky and showering its audience with white flakes of paper -- all of which was witnessed by those who had just seen Vampire Weekend, the main stage headliner whose set had ended 20 minutes earlier, and were on the bridge, their festival experiences over. As the girl in the glasses glumly took another chug from her half-empty Dasani bottle and kept walking across the RFK, Vampire Weekend's headlining performance was suddenly thrust into question. Had it been showy enough to be truly memorable? Was Axwell ^ Ingrosso the more euphoric option on Sunday evening? And why didn't we get confetti too?
These are silly questions that spring to mind when presented with a band as brilliantly subtle as Vampire Weekend, who handled the headlining slot on Sunday with steady assurance and workmanlike consistency. There were no confetti or fireworks, but who needs pyrotechnics when you have a group as technically precise as this one? For an hour and a half, Ezra Koenig and co. demonstrated why they deserve to be festival headliners despite only releasing their first album six years ago.
The group effortlessly hopscotched between its three excellent full-lengths, turning deep cuts into sing-alongs and fan favorites into dance parties. From the front of the crowd, the songs gleamed like nothing else that had been on the main stage earlier that day; from the back, the sound was crystal-clear and the songs' tones were apparently inspirational. "Unbelievers" compelled one couple in the back of the crowd to start grinding, and later, "Obvious Bicycle" resulted in a full-on make out session for another young couple in the audience.
The selections from Vampire Weekend's 2013 LP "Modern Vampires of the City" were especially strong, as "Step" played out like a dreamy waltz following the jittery bounce of "Holiday," and "Ya Hey" sounded just as likably weird as it is on the album. Compared to the band's pre-"Modern Vampires" shows, the Governors Ball set felt more well-rounded, with the short blasts of "A-Punk" and "Cousins" now given better balance by the thoughtful material on Vampire Weekend's latest album, like "Everlasting Arms" and "Hannah Hunt." They also threw in a curveball on Sunday night by performing the fizzy early track "Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)," which did not appear on the band's 2008 debut. But as always, Koenig proved to be an affable master of ceremonies, his supple croon wafting across the field while his band mates joined in on the harmonies; really, the only thing amiss of his performance were his camouflage shorts.
"You feel like dancing?" Koenig slyly asked midway through the band's performance, right before the descending guitar lick that opens "A-Punk" screeched to announce its arrival. And then, everyone danced with goofy smiles plastered on their faces, including the band. As Vampire Weekend's catalogue continues to expand, its live show has tightened toward a certain mistake-free level -- and either the seams aren't showing, or the audience is too delirious to notice the hard work being put in. Although Vampire Weekend didn't have confetti explode over its audience at Governors Ball, the band's performance was plenty memorable nonetheless.