Written & Photographed by Ashley Laramie
To fall in love with a band is a process- one with many stages. The album is purchased. Every lyric and guitar solo is inked on brain tissue to a neurotic degree. A crush is developed on the mysterious lead singer. The songs eventually hold more than just meaningless notes and words- memories are made to these tracks. And finally, this relationship comes full circle with the concert experience. For the crowd of twenty-something die-hard fans filing into The Fillmore- a truly beautiful historical venue of Italian-Renaissance style located in downtown Detroit- the upcoming night would be a landmark moment of their young lives. It is one thing to listen to a song in the confines of a car, or at an intimate gathering with friends. But to hear something live, to shout out the lyrics with hundreds of other fans? That is the moment everyone waits for, a transcending experience that a studio performance cannot do justice to. On this May evening, devoted music lovers gathered to see Vampire Weekend- four preppy Columbia University graduates who formed an afro-pop influenced indie rock band in their college years, and eventually rose to critical acclaim and worldwide success. I was one of these fans, anxiously standing on my tip toes and craning my neck with anticipation and excitement. Finally, it was all happening.
Corinthian columns suspended from the ceiling were lowered as the band- Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson and Chris Baio- walked on-stage to the sound of screams that would rival the crowd at a One Direction concert. Mussorgsky’s ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’- a Russian instrumental piece of the highest level of grandeur- satirically played in the background, enforcing the unspoken agreement that tonight, Vampire Weekend- four skinny boys in boat shoes and cardigans- were deities with the power to rule us all. The band immediately launched head-first into a hyped-up rendition of hit single Cousins- up-tempo and fast paced, with an anthem-like chorus- and from the first note of the song, the crowd went wild. The energy among the throngs of girls trying to throw themselves into the eye-line of Koenig, who long ago secured his status as a heartthrob among the indie set, was sky-high. General admission always calls for a high degree of stamina- the sticky floors, and the physical damage that can arise as a result of being part of a sea of bodies jumping up and down in unison- and you have to hold your territory in the pit. This is a scene that reduces boxing day madness to child’s play, and between the elbowing, foot stomping, and subtle shoving, warriors of the crowd were sure to leave with some kind of battle wound. We danced our hearts out to 60s-inspired Diane Young, sang along at the top of our lungs to the chorus of old favourite, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, and fist-pumped to the band’s latest single, Ya Hey. It was every man for himself out there, and all in the name of music.
The set list contained an equal number of songs from each album, which the band performed to an impressively high caliber of expertise. Tomson breathed life into the music, playing the drums with a passion-fueled force that, in combination with Baio on bass guitar, provided a rhythmic anchor for Batmanglij’s complex keyboard sets. Laced with classical influences pulled from a large span of decades, these arrangements distinctly separate Vampire Weekend from other indie rock bands. In a live setting, this sonic diversity transports the listener, giving them for that brief moment in time the power to be whoever and wherever they want. Koenig’s voice is an instrument on it’s own, capable of producing sounds that turn the lyrics from words to feelings and moods, and this quality was exponentially amplified by the accompaniment of hundreds of fans attempting to exceed lung capacity by reaching new decibel levels.
It was an impressive performance, one that coincided nicely with the release of the band’s latest album, Modern Vampires of the City earlier in the week. This album has been deemed as the completion of a trilogy, thus ending the first cycle of the musical history of Vampire Weekend. With this revelation, it is both interesting and necessary to examine how Modern Vampires of the City fits in with the previous two albums. Vampire Weekend were trailblazers at the time of their introduction- the first band to really capitalize on blog buzz, filling the gap The Strokes had left wide open as New York’s “It band”. They had Ivy League degrees, wore cashmere sweaters and madras shorts on-stage, and made references to obscure architectural designs, fashion brands and Peter Gabriel. They were the perfect band for the kids who wanted validation that it was cool to be smart, to be geeky, and to dream of something bigger and better.
When listening to Modern Vampires of the City, it is immediately obvious that Vampire Weekend has grown up- Baio is married, Koenig’s hair is polished, and recently in public appearances, the band has been choosing a grayscale wardrobe over their usual colourful New England inspired ensembles. They have come a long way since their early days, with a debut album largely materializing from their experiences in New York City as undergraduates at Columbia University. Upon writing their second album, Vampire Weekend had abandoned New York for the world at large- the band was embarking on a major multi-continental tour, Koenig was residing in Los Angeles- and these changes were reflected in the global sounds of funk and reggae-infused Contra.
Modern Vampires of the City is very much a homecoming to the world of songs from their debut album like Campus and M79, name checking Manhattan landmarks and characters with names like Hannah Hunt and Diane Young. The songs have a darker sound, moving on from inquiries into the societal role of grammar rules and exploring deeper themes such as religion and death. The dark side of Vampire Weekend has made appearances previously, both sonically and lyrically, in songs like I Think Ur A Contra and The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, but on Modern Vampires of the City, this darkness is explored in a more serious manner, to new depths. Despite this evolution, the album maintains the bands tradition of danceable pop heavily saturated with references- Step and Ya Hey are rich with this signature intellectual wordplay that often turns the songs into puzzles that the listener is too intrigued to not try and attempt. Unbelievers and Finger Back are incredibly dance-worthy, pop music creations that are set apart by the band never once questioning the intelligence level of it’s listener. Modern Vampires of the City is unlike any other album on the market right now- an impressively original piece with the power to sustain the test of time due to the seamless fusion of multi-genre influences- from hip hop to Paul Simon- universal subject matter, and high-quality writing.
With their latest release, Vampire Weekend reaches the end of an era. Although future changes are highly unpredictable, there is one thing that will always remain constant, for Vampire Weekend and all musicians alike: what it means to be their fan.
Put your records on. Sing along to every word. And enjoy the unconditional love you feel for a simple little song- it may be one of the most rewarding relationships you will ever have.