Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vampire Weekend at La Cigale

At the gorgeous La Cigale theatre in Paris, wedged between the luxurious 9th (Opera quarter) and the bohemian 18th (Montmarte), 4 nerdy ex-Columbia University students rocked out to a crowd of frenchies, for once enthusiastic, for once open and vibrant.

Vampire Weekend released their first album earlier this year, and slowly the buzz grew and grew until they were featured on Saturday Night Live. Bouncy and almost hypnotically cute, using elements of traditional African music, Vampire Weekend is potentially the complete opposite of Emo. Vampire Weekend might just be the first band without a single song about being heartbroken, or, in fact, a single song that doesn't sound like the musical representation of a warm Spring afternoon. When listening to "Campus," you can't help but picture the four band members laying on the grass in the quad, playing the occassional game of frisbee, lead singer Ezra Koenig whistling a tune while doing his Lit Hum homework. They are the epitome of indie without being at all ironic. There was not an oversized pair of sunglasses or a pair of skinny pants to be found: they're more preppy than scenester.

I was lucky enough to score a ticket to tonight's concert in Paris, the last date of their first ever tour. There was a sense of gratitute in everything the band members did, a sheepishness to everything, as if they couldn't really grasp how famous they were after releasing only one album. They played a short set, which was understandable given the short length of each of their songs, averaging about 3 minutes each. They tried to lengthen the time the best they could, including 2 new songs and a cover, but it was quite evident how simply new they were at all this. The relatively quick and clean show might have been just a bit too quick and a bit too clean-- a definitve drawback.

Vampire Weekend, if given the opportunity to strengthen their sound, release a few LPs, and jump back into the world of experimental indie rock, would definitely improve their showmanship. They need two things: more material, and more spontaneity. Lack of songs regardless (they played every single track off of their debut "Vampire Weekend"), they put a heck of a show. Ezra Koenig was particularly adorable, juxtaposing (very) broken French and American English. My favorite part of the show was actually this quote, by Ezra himself, halfway through the show:

"C'est la deuxieme partie de notre concert. C'est plus energique... et plus... uh, plus... shvitzing."

(It's the second part of our concert. It's more energetic, and more... shvitzing.)

[Oh Ezra, you are so wonderfully New Yorkaise. For the non-Jews, he means sweating, moving around, bouge-ing, if you will.]

Vampire Weekend's sound is so particularly idiosyncratic that it makes distinguishing the "hits" from the rest nearly impossible. When I first listened to the album-- from my point of view, expertly compiled-- I had a few favorite songs, but nothing screamed "HIT". This is not to say that the sound lacks some kind of catchy-ness; au contraire: each song is too catchy to be followed by the next, equally catchy, one. It's a dilemma of wonderous proportions! My favorites pre-concert were: "Mansard Roof," "Campus," and "Oxford Comma." Now, after seeing them live, it's more difficult to tell. Every band's sound is always shifted when live. Vampire Weekend are not the loudest band, but when live, their drums (Chris Tomson) dominate.

"This is a song... about a bus," Ezra would say before beginning a pounding, electrically thrilling version of M79. Thinking about New York City buses made me warm and fuzzy, and the entire concert I was waiting for a pause to yell "GO COLUMBIAAAAA" but couldn't work up the courage. Another hidden wonder was "I Stand Corrected," amplified what seemed like hundreds of times by the soaring crescendo of drums and Ezra's singing in the first minute.

Amazing venue, amazing show, if cut too short by sheer inexperience. I can't wait to see what Vampire Weekend have up their adorably indie sleeve for 2009.

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