Saturday, June 15, 2019

Concert Review: Vampire Weekend in Cleveland, Ohio

Some evening are like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way. Last night, the weather and atmosphere was prime: cool and breezy for a mid-June day. Jacob's Pavillion at Nautica provided a beautiful backdrop for a sold-out show. Vampire Weekend and Chicano Batman rocked the stage for not only a good time, but a long time.

Chicano Batman took the stage at 7:30p.m. with an energetic and funky set. Chicano Batman are from Los Angeles, and perform a retro blend of genres. They played "Cycles of Existential Rhyme," "Freedom is Free," and several selections from the Black Lipstick EP including the titular "Black Lipstick." A daytime moon shone beside the stage, an indicator of the clear sky and ideal weather. The crowd was attentive, if under-engaged. The short set felt full and enthralling.

Chicano Batman.
Chicano Batman lead singer Bardo Martinez.
After a brief reset, Vampire Weekend took the stage at 8:47p.m. and began with a raucous "Sympathy" from the recent Father of the Bride. The already-enthused crowd was further roused by "White Sky" from the band's second album, Contra. Jumping from song to song with smooth instrumental transitions, the band then dove into "Unbelievers."

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.
This tour comes not long after the departure of founding member and producer, Rostam Batmanglij. In his place, the other three founding members (Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio) have employed the help of a quartet of live performers: Greta Morgan on keys and guitar, Garrett Ray as an additional drummer and percussionist, Will Canzoneri on the main keyboard parts and the inimitable Brian Robert Jones who often takes lead guitar.

Vampire Weekend.
Still early in the show, it was thrilling to hear Vampire Weekend play an animated rendition of "Holiday." Koenig's Epiphone Sheraton provided their signature jangly sound.

An early track, "Boston" (or "Ladies of Cambridge") was next, followed by a duo of songs from the new album: "Bambina" and "Sunflower." The band worked their way into "Sunflower" slowly, extending the intro significantly. The pair of songs really brought forth and channeled the relaxed vibes of Father of the Bride.

After the popular "M79," the crowd was more than ready for "This Life."

"Step" was unusual to hear without being immediately followed by "Diane Young." They instead played "Spring Snow" from the new album, and then "Giant," both songs not commonly done live. The crowd was encouraged to join in as the M.I.A. part in "Diplomat's Son." The crowd never seemed to figure out when to stop and start the repeated chant, but the participation did engage everyone at what could have been a quieter part of the show, since the songs were deeper in the catalog.

An upbeat "Hannah Hunt" gave way to "Harmony Hall." Being that it's one of the biggest hits, as well as my personal favorite from the album, it was exciting to hear the opening guitar parts played by Koenig and Jones. By this time, the band had been playing for an hour and fifteen minutes, and the beat was dragging a little. Nevertheless, "Harmony Hall" and the subsequent "Diane Young" brought down the house. That is, until the high-octane "Cousins" blew us away yet again, proving the crowd could always participate more. A pair of songs from their self-titled debut album followed, with "A-Punk" and "One (Blake's Got a New Face)." Finally, the tempo slowed down with "2021" and "I Think Ur a Contra," which quietly wrapped up the set.

The audience wasn't left waiting long before the band returned to the stage for an encore. They began with an emotional "Big Blue," and unfurled the flags representative of different elements of the new album.

Next, Vampire Weekend debuted a cover of "Don't Dream It's Over" (by Crowded House). As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of covers, especially when my favorite artists cover one another, so you know I was thrilled.

The Vampire Weekend version of the song was very true to the original, which made it pretty good, but I wish they'd put more of their own twist on it than just riffing a little longer during the musical bridge.

Following "Don't Dream It's Over," the band took three requests from members of the crowd, beginning with one of my favorite rare tracks, "Ottoman." This rendition definitely borrowed from the vibes of Father of the Bride. The next two requests were "How Long?" and "Flower Moon" from the new album, but they only played the first minute or so from "Flower Moon" since they were short on time. 

Earlier, I mentioned the strange separation of songs from Modern Vampires of the City. Well, the band made up for this at the close of the concert when they kept "Worship You" and "Ya Hey" together. Giant inflatable globes made their way into the crowd as the final songs were played, which created a fun vibe in the audience. 

The band played for over two hours, which is admirable. They also kept it fun the entire time, which is just one reason that this was one of the best shows I've been to in a while. It was mostly pitch-perfect and enjoyable through and through. You could tell they were a group of fine musicians. I paid over a hundred dollars for my ticket to this show, making it one of the more expensive shows I've attended, but it was worth every penny. 

If you have a chance to catch them on the rest of their tour this summer, I highly recommend checking them out.