By Eric Ditzian
On Monday night at New York's Webster Hall, I caught the second night of Vampire Weekend's three sold-out New York City shows. I'm a big fan of their new album Contra (which looks like it will debut on top of the Billboard chart this week), but here are five things I wish I knew before heading into the venue.
» Don't expect to dance. It's never a good sign at a concert when a frontman has to implore the crowd to dance. It's doubly unfortunate when, as happened at Monday's (January 18) show, a frontman confesses that he always has to implore the crowd to dance. The issue is not that Vampire Weekend's music is inherently un-danceable. The problem lies in the fact that the band collectively unleashes so little energy. Their live sound is tailored far more for beachside chillin' than live show boogeying.
» Drummer Chris Tomson deserves a raise. Or something. Outfitted in a New Jersey Nets jersey and thumping away like a madman all night, Tomson did his best to lend the show some semblance of rock show urgency, veering confidently from Afropop beats to Latin rhythms to reggaeton pop-pop-pops. He essentially picked up his bandmates, slung them over his shoulder and carried them forward as best he could in the direction of a killer live show.
» If the collective response of a crowd can be viewed as a rational critical assessment, no song on Contra is half as good as the hits off their self-titled debut. "A-Punk" and "Oxford Comma" elicited by far the most oohs, ahhs and group singing than newer tracks like "Cousins" and "Horchata." This can partly be explained away since the crowd was surely more familiar with the older tunes than the fresher ones. But only partly. Kickass music is kickass music, and the new album is less infectious, less vital, less fun than its predecessor.
» Frontman Ezra Koenig seems like a very nice guy. He also has just slightly more stage presence than I did while playing the lead in my first grade class's staging of "Hansel and Gretel."
» A Vampire Weekend live show is a perfectly pleasant experience. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it is. My guess is the band sounds exactly the same every single night, sidestepping experimentation or exploration in favor of nicely wrapped renditions of each song. At Webster Hall, there were very few peaks and even fewer valleys. From start to finish, it was all just so ... pleasant. When it comes to rock and roll, where's the fun in that?