For those not living in Los Angeles, this has been an odd summer for weather. The notoriously beautiful temperate weather has been, well… too temperate. For most of the inner city inhabitants the gauge stayed locked at around 69 degrees all summer long. No one would really complain, but the general consensus was that Southern California was absent a real summer this year. However, on Sunday September 27th, 2010—and firmly moved into the Fall season—the heat sweltered into the 100’s all around the greater Los Angeles area, with the promise of a scorching 105 in some parts of the city for the very next day. Thus was the climate for Vampire Weekend’s largest headlining show to date in the U.S. Backed up by indie darlings Beach House and world-inspired newcomers The Very Best at the Hollywood Bowl.
Opening on the lively side of things, The Very Best delivered their brief set with a minimalist approach to their vibrant, colorful sound. The production end of the group (also known as Radioclit) was represented tonight only by Johan Karlberg, serving as DJ while singer/rapper Esau Mwamwaya took center stage. The group’s tunes varied between dancehall afrobeat and even at times, a jubilant Caribbean rhythm. Even though the music was little more than a backing track dropped in by Karlberg, The Very Best still drew some enthusiasm out of the slowly arriving crowd. “Warm Heart of Africa,” title track from their recent debut ended their set strongly.
It band of the moment Beach House was up next. Their recent album Teen Dream having received widespread praise they shot up from obscurity to main support at this show. Sadly, the Baltimore-based group lives up to none of the hype. Their inclusion was curious considering the afrobeat-influenced styles of the night’s other performers. The band’s recent album is a breezy chill out, one that’s garnered accolades far and wide, but live they’re a mid tempo snore-fest complete with bland atmospherics with no spark to them whatsoever. Imagine Mazzy Star without Hope Sandoval’s ghostly, comforting delivery and you’re somewhere in the vicinity. Like Best Coast at this month’s disastrous FYF Fest, Beach House is all buzz and no pow.
Thankfully, Vampire Weekend brought the pulse of the evening back up to where it belonged. Slyly darting out to a hip-hop backing track, the group found their feet quickly. Playing a solid mix of tracks from their self-titled debut and this year’s stellar Contra, the crowd slowly became more enraptured with each progressive song. The playful “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” displayed many of the band’s trademark attributes: afrobeat rhythms, guitar licks with swing, punchy keyboards. “I Stand Corrected” and “M79” came next, the former with lead singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig’s calm and distinctive delivery guiding the song, the latter almost an effort to encapsulate classical flourishes into a poppy package. The group dialed up the tempo considerably for recent fan favorite “Cousins,” as drummer Chris Tomson blasted marching band drumrolls in between each successive verse.
“Taxi Cab” proved to be one of their most mature compositions, delicately plucked out by Rostam Batmanglij while a pitter-patter of percussion kept time without ever veering the tune into less focused territory. Just as on recent effort Contra, “Run” followed next, just lightly edging up the pace. This set the stage well for the next two, as “A-Punk” got the audience dancing and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” was perfect fodder for Koenig to prompt the crowd for a call-and-response singalong. After a peppy cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down” and Contra‘s “Diplomat’s Son,” the only mistake of the evening came in the form of “I Think UR A Contra.” The performance itself was near perfect, and proved it is quite possibly the four-piece’s best song. A lush, meditative number with soothing vocal tumbling from note-to-note, the only flaw was it not being the set’s finale. A lost chance to leave the crowd perfectly with a calm note to exit on their evening perhaps, but still far from anything negative enough to diminish the set. Recent single “Giving Up the Gun” and first album favorite “Oxford Comma” concluded the main set.
The encore break included three equally strong songs. “Horchata,” and first album tracks “Mansard Roof” and “Walcott.” The last of which built to a mounting finale as Koenig repeated the highly enjoyable refrain, “Don’t you want to get out of Cape Code / Out of Cape Cod tonight?” as the crowd’s response grew more elated the further it built up.
It’s hard to fault the boys in Vampire Weekend. For all that is somewhat lacking in real merit about the indie hype machine, these recent college grads wear the crown extremely well. Even though their lyrics lack the life experience of some of their peers, they more than make up for it with effortless stage presence and skillfully crafted songs. They look at ease in their position, without pretense or bitterness. Gracefully, they play through their limitations and assemble highly enjoyable music. Even in oppressive heat, Vampire Weekend had the crowd soothed like it was a soft 70-degree day.