Onstage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom Tuesday night (Jan. 19), Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig admitted that he had “a lot of toxins to get out,” due to the previous night’s post-show celebration. Considering the whirlwind that has followed the group’s 2008 debut — one that’s carried all the way through to today, as its sophomore album “Contra” debuts at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 — Vampire Weekend certainly had a lot to celebrate. The Bowery show was the third and smallest hometown gig to promote the new release, and it only seemed right for the band to end at one of the venues that marked its initial success two years prior.
See Photos of Vampire Weekend Live in Concert
Amid guitars as clean-cut as the buttoned-up band members themselves, Koenig spouted lines like, “You’d remember drinking horchata/You’d still enjoy it with your foot on Masada” (“Horchata”), and “Walk to class in front of ya/Spilled kefir on your keffiyah” (“Campus”). He encouraged crowd participation in the back-and-forth shout of “Blake’s got a new face” in “One,” but fans hardly needed the prompting to sing along.
“Contra” utilizes more synths, electronics and layered “ooohs” and “aaahs” than the quartet’s first effort, but it doesn’t compromise the African beats, sunny guitars and influences from ska, punk and reggae that made “Vampire Weekend” such a success. The new set was played almost in its entirety, and each track was impressively on par with the recordings: Koenig even had AutoTune channeled through his microphone to recreate the echoing vocal effects on “California English.” The raucousness of “Cousins” and “Walcott” shook the floor: drummer Chris Tomson nearly bounced off his stool, while teenage girls swooned over Koenig’s rapid-fire guitar solos.
The band calmed down with the slow groove of “Taxi Cab,” for which Tomson switched to an electronic drum kit and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij plinked out music box-like keyboard runs. The “Contra” tracks were balanced out by cuts from Vampire Weekend’s first LP — the “oldies,” as Koenig jokingly called them after powering through the staccato “ay ay ays” of “A-Punk.”
The past two years have proven that these four Columbia grads aren’t leaving the scene any time soon, but last night’s show was also a reminder that even with Vampire Weekend’s undeniable and well deserved success, the band is still only on record No. 2 and has a long way to go. “That’s about all we’ve got,” Koenig said after exhausting the better part of both records, noting that Vampire Weekend’s last set at Bowery lasted only 35 minutes. “It’s a lot longer than last time we came here.”
Here is Vampire Weekend’s setlist:
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
“I Stand Corrected”
“Giving Up The Gun”