Vampire Weekend at Riverside Theater
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Before getting to Vampire Weekend's celebratory, sold-out show at Riverside Theater Tuesday night, let's dispense with the usual subjects that typically dog the band: Columbia University, Pitchfork, world music, button ups, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, that "Blake's Got A New Face" song. Let's even get last year's Alice Cooper incident out of the way, in which the aging shock-rocker called out Vampire Weekend's members for their lack of "balls." Geez, with those kind of accusations, you'd think these guys were Chester French or something.
Rushing to the stage amidst ear-splitting screams and a few choice bars of House Of Pain's "Jump Around," Vampire Weekend wasted no time in silencing its critics. "White Sky" served as the evening's opener—one of the stronger tracks from the group's newest album, Contra—and sent the Riverside into a sustained level of frenzy that rarely subsided. Packed to the rafters and forever engaging in the kind of earnest, eyes-closed hippie dancing not seen since the days of Lilith Fair, this was the kind of crowd that had already lost its collective shit during the sound check.
Drenched in primary colors and surrounded by a series of sometimes overactive spotlights, Vampire Weekend showed every sign of a band fully in control of its fame. Front man Ezra Koenig seemed all-too-aware of his newfound status as indie-god, occasionally chiding the crowd and even acknowledging an impassioned cry of "I love you!" "Campus" transitioned seamlessly into "Oxford Comma," Contra's "California English" got by with the surprisingly welcome addition of Auto-Tuned vocals, and the jubilant "Cousins" nearly sent the crowd's female fans into Davy Jones-level hysterics. In perhaps a nod to its undeserved wuss-rock reputation, Vampire Weekend implored to crowd to go "a little more aggro" during the call and response of "M79," and politely called for even more dancing before launching into the excellent "A-Punk."
Granted, there were a few moments that validated some of the criticism leveled at the band: The drippy "Giving Up the Gun"—perhaps Vampire Weekend's worst song —was dutifully trotted out, while the refrain of the otherwise lovely "Horchata" seemed like an unintentional tribute to the music of The Lion King. The Riverside's sometimes muddy sound did the band no favors, and seemed especially unforgiving with the oft-used synthesizers. Finally, the less said about "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" the better.
But never mind—this was big, bold stuff, and the kind of show that comes around all too rarely. A three-song encore comprised of "Horchata," "Mansard Roof," and the ebullient "Walcott" capped off the group's 60-minute set, and left even those in the balcony's back rows glowing. Assured, charming, and unembarrassed, it was clear that in the two years since its last Milwaukee visit, Vampire Weekend had managed to go big. Really, really big. If that doesn't take balls, what does?