Vampire Weekend Celebrates New LP With Six-Hour, 56-Song NYC Hometown Show: Live Recap
By Chris Payne
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By Chris Payne
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Watch Haim & Dev Hynes' guest performances during the three-set, all-day marathon
For Vampire Weekend, new albums and New York City shows used to feel kind of like the local bagels and pizza: always around, there when you need them, copied to death by out-of-towners, indelible from their home turf.
The Columbia-bred indie rock outfit released three excellent albums between 2008 and 2013 and toured its way up from punk venues like Brooklyn's GlassLands to the Barclays Center, with stops on SNL for each of the three releases. Then, over the past half-decade, life came fast: frontman Ezra Koenig welcomed his first child and spent considerable time hosting a Beats 1 radio show and creating a Netflix anime series. Founding member Rostam Batmanglij amicably left the band. Bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson released solo projects. Their earthy, sprawling double-LP Father Of the Bride -- released Friday (May 3) on Columbia -- marks their first album in six years. They hadn't played in New York City for almost as long, unless you count Friday's impromptu pow wow in Washington Square Park.
Finally, the new version of Vampire Weekend showed itself yesterday (May 5) at the newly reopened Webster Hall. And did they show themselves: Koenig and company jammed for six hours over three separate sets, playing the new album in its entirety, along with nearly all of its recorded catalog to date. There were special guests, both from the album and Vampire Weekend's own extended universe. And yes, there were bagels and pizza.
Here's our on-the-scene recap of all the highlights:
10:15 am: It's Cinco De Mayo on the calendar, but in Manhattan, it feels like a dreary fall day on the edge of winter: overcast skies, just over 50 degrees, drizzling rain on and off. Fans have been lining up for some time, hoping to snag an up-close barricade spot. Finally, the line that's been snaking down 11th Street beings moving as security opens its doors. And a small handful of ticket-less superfans are in luck -- the show's been sold out literally since it went on sale, but a couple dozen new tickets are suddenly up for grabs at the Webster Hall box office.
10:35 am: As promised, the show opens with a classic New York City breakfast spread: bagels -- plain, pumpernickel, sesame, everything, etc. -- a full array of cream cheeses, plus fresh fruit and a barrage of other toppings.
But if you've just entered the venue, there are some choices to make. Vampire Weekend merchandise -- including a t-shirt exclusive to this show -- is selling out fast at the merch table. The shirts wouldn't make it to the first intermission.
11:15 am: Vampire Weekend takes the stage. Their first song is a classic lower Manhattan ode with a rise-and-shine mood to match the rainy streets: The Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning."
11:19 am: Vampire Weekend's second tune is another song that sounds kind of like the sun hitting your eyes through the blinds for the first time: Modern Vampires Of the City opener "Obvious Bicycle." Further setting the tone for the day is a big, funky extended jam that fades into a cover of Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man" before segueing back into the usual "Bicycle" finish.
11:31 am: We're all partying in the Lower East Side, but the Columbia grads take time to salute their old stomping grounds. "Shout out to everyone who came from uptown," says frontman Ezra Koenig, "Anyone take the M79?" Naturally, the bus line's namesake track is up.
11:39 am: The next Vampire Weekend cover looks west across the Hudson River to the Garden State: it's Bruce Springsteen's jaunty Born In the U.S.A. track "I'm Goin Down," which the band covered for its iTunes Session EP in 2010.
11:43 am: Up next, it's another cover -- this time, Fleetwood Mac'sTango In the Night single "Everywhere," with keyboardist-guitarist Greta Morgan doing a great job of delivering Christine McVie's incandescent chorus.
11:48 am: "For the record, there are only two Vampire Weekend songs that sound like Paul Simon," asserts Koenig, addressing a comparison that's existed about as long as the band. The song up next actually is a Paul Simon song: a cover of his 1980 single "Late In the Evening."
11:55 am: The crowd is starting to simmer, but Vampire Weekend knows it's still a bit too early to expect typical-concert-hours reactions. "We didn't wanna do the whole bombastic version in the morning," says Koenig, "So this is a special version of 'Giving Up the Gun.'" Before jumping into a '70s-style, funk-addled take of the Contra single, Koenig shouts out Joe Jonas, who guested in the song's music video, but is (unfortunately) not on hand today.
12:03 pm: For "Diplomat's Son," another Contra track, Koenig enlists the help of the audience since the band no longer plays with the backing tracks it used to. He gets the crowd to sing back the track's foundational M.I.A. sample -- or at least the basic gist of it -- through the opening measures, before turning to drummer Chris Tomson: "Can you work with that?" We're off and running.
12:25 pm: Vampire Weekend ends its first set with a cover of the Bob Dylan song whose namesake absurd '90s font has been fascinating them lately. Time for a break, which Koenig assures is just 35 minutes, and back for set two.
Here's the set list from the first set:
1. Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground cover) 2. Obvious Bicycle (featuring cover of Dusty Springfield's "Son Of a Preacher Man") 3. Unbelievers 4. Everlasting Arms 5. M79 6. Step 7. I'm Goin' Down (Bruce Springsteen cover) 8. Everywhere (Fleetwood Mac cover) 9. Late In the Evening (Paul Simon cover) 10. Giving Up the Gun 11. Diplomat's Sun 12. The Kids Don't Stand a Chance 13. Jokerman (Bob Dylan cover)
1:10 pm: As promised, the second Vampire Weekend set features Father Of the Bride played start-to-finish. To kick it off, the band is joined onstage with guest vocalist Danielle Haim for her dramatic back-and-forth with Koenig on opener 'Hold You Now."
1:20 pm: Now all three Haim sisters -- Danielle, Este, and Alana -- are out for the album's majestic fourth track, "This Life." Before they get going with so much extra vocal power onstage, Koenig makes sure all is in order: "It's like my lifetime obsession... Do the mics work?" All is fine, and the harmonizing and shimmying commences.
1:53 pm: After performing the pensive, subdued "My Mistake," Koenig looks up to eye a special audience member in the second level: "You like the live version, Ariel?" He's referencing the track's co-producer, frequent VW collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid, who's apparently on hand today.
1:50 pm: For "Sunflower," which features the Internet's Steve Lacy, the guitarist-vocalist isn't in attendance, but Vampire Weekend has plenty of in-house talent to drive it home. Guitarist Brian Robert Jones is the star here, scatting along to the track's free-form vocals, while using his pedals to make his instrument's notes sound almost backwards in an extended outro jam.
2:30 pm: The band re-welcomes Danielle Haim for album closer "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin" -- it's the fifth separate time she's come onstage and Koenig apologizes for the nature of the track listing. She jokes about how it allows "plenty of time for pee breaks" and the big band is off for its 18th of 18 Father Of the Bride tracks. Up next? "There's plenty of pizza," Koenig promises.
Here's the set list from the second set:
1. Hold You Now 2. Harmony Hall 3. Bambina 4. This Life 5. Big Blue 6. How Long? 7. Unbearably White 8. Rich Man 9. Married In a Gold Rush 10. My Mistake 11. Sympathy 12. Sunflower 13. Flower Moon 14. 2010 15. We Belong Together 16. Stranger 17. Spring Snow 18. Jerusalem, New York, Berlin
2:45 pm: The audience trickles out into the main bar area and quickly becomes apparent those who ducked out a couple songs early already snatched the first few pies. Reinforcements are slow at first, but before long, there's plenty of plain, pepperoni, and veggie (along with gluten free, allegedly) to make sure everyone's gotten their fill.
3:40 pm: Vampire Weekend's final set begins the way a lot of their old ones used to end, with their 2008 track "Walcott." The frantic garage-pop song is about fleeing vampires on Cape Cod -- hence, playing it last before moving onto the next city. But this time, it's luring everyone into the start of a trip deep into their back catalog.
3:49 pm: For the next few minutes, you can close your eyes and imagine you're at a Vampire Weekend show in 2010 -- it's "Mansard Roof," then "Holiday" -- nothing but bangers, pulled off just the way much of the crowd appears to remember them from high school, college, or wherever in between.
4:13 pm: Now we're into some deep cuts. Back in 2014, Koenig guested on a track from the English electronic producer SBTRKT called "New Dorp, New York," featuring setting-appropriate lyrics like, ""Flag flappin' in Manhattan / New Dorp New York / Gargoyles gargling oil / Peak of the empire, top of the rock." It gets the full rock band treatment here, far heavier than the original's eerie minimalism. All that waiting in the rain (or in Ticketmaster queues weeks back) is paying off now; there's about a zero percent chance you'll hear anything like this on a regular Vampire Weekend tour.
4:28 pm: Now it's bassist Chris Baio's time to shine. As a singer-songwriter, Baio released two solo albums during Vampire Weekend's pre-Bride break, and here, he whips out his catchiest single. It's "Sister Of Pearl," a spiffy garage-crooner jam that wouldn't have sounded out of place on VW's first two albums. Baio passes his bass to Jones and works the mic like a pro, with the crowd getting a rare chance to see Koenig backing his old friend on guitar.
4:39 pm: Vampire Weekend busts out its sneaky-good Twilight: Eclipse soundtrackjam "Jonathan Low" for the very first time. Previous deep cuts in this rarity-packed third set include "Boston (Ladies Of Cambridge)" (which appeared on early versions of what would become 2008's self-titled), "Giant" (a Contra b-side), and "Ottoman" (from the deep-into-2008 lore of the Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist officialsoundtrack).
4:53 pm: "AY! AY! AY! AY!" The fans aren't getting Vampire Weekend's seminal 2008 single three times in a row (as some festival crowds did last year) but with all these people have seen today, one trip through "A-Punk" will have to suffice.
5:00 pm: After "A-Punk," it's "Campus" and "Oxford Comma," a couple of self-titled bangers to lead us to the final song, pre-encore: Contra's hazy, delicate closer, "I Think Ur A Contra." Koenig assures us they'll be back for one last hurrah, before the band runs off to recharge one last time.
5:15 pm: Vampire Weekend has been covering Thin Lizzy's signature song lately, and much like the gang at Dino's Bar 'n' Grill, Ezra and the boys are back in town, baby. It's only proper "The Boys Are Back In Town" gets an encore play, and to a predictably rousing response.
5:27 pm: For the last of today's 56 songs, Vampire Weekend enlists a fellow New York City musical icon, Blood Orange frontman Dev Hynes, to guide them home via "Ya Hey." It must have been a little intimidating joining a unit that had been in motion for the past five hours, but Hynes quickly joined in on vocals and took the weight off Koenig, who was somehow still going after singing almost all of his band's four-album catalog, and then some. The final notes rang out, and the 2019 iteration of Vampire Weekend took one last moment to salute the crowd and take it all in.
It's been six years since their last album and over that time they've lost a core member, added a bevy of touring players, welcomed new family, signed with a new label, campaigned for a presidential candidate, and completed the most ambitious album of their career. It all must have felt like a whirlwind miniature lifetime, and the Webster Hall marathon, a fitting welcome home.
Here's the set list from the third set:
1. Walcott 2. Mansard Roof 3. Holiday 4. Boston (Ladies Of Cambridge) 5. White Sky 6. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa 7. Giant 8. Run 9. Horchata 10. New Drop, New York (SBTRKT cover) 11. I Stand Corrected 12. Ottoman 13. Sister Of Pearl (Baio cover) 14. Hannah Hunt 15. Jonathan Low 16. One (Blake's Got a New Face) 17. Diane Young 18. Cousins 19. A-Punk 20. Campus 21. Oxford Comma 22. I Think Ur a Contra
Encore: 23. The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzy cover) 24. Worship You 25. Ya Hey