vampire weekend [2008]

San Francisco, CA
10 December 2008

It was a huge bill. It was a tiny venue. A band with more hype behind them than anyone thought possible. Hype that could cut a man down in his prime. Hype that could bring a man to his knees, and then break him in half.

Under such immense pressure, four adorable, squeaky clean kids (as advertised) took the stage and powered through the best show I’ve ever experienced (from a band I didn’t already love). Yes, that’s a pretty weighty parenthetical. But a bold statement nonetheless.

You know how some bands come out to prove that they don’t have to stick to the script; that they can break cleanly from their recordings and play those songs like you’ve never heard them before? And then others will play it safe, and try to recreate your listening experiences as closely as possible, leaving you wondering why you actually came out to see them in the first place (on a freezing-ass night, to boot)?

Vampire Weekend played every song they knew. Each one (aside from the two unrecorded) sounded almost exactly like the recorded version. And yet somehow, each element of the songs was amplified, illuminated, electrified.

Clearly, I’m having difficulty explaining just how amazing a feat this was. They diverged not an inch from their album and yet improved each song ten-fold. The songs themselves are such swift and structurally detailed creations that to bang them out with such mad energy in real time was just plain remarkable.

Front man Ezra Koenig charmed from the very beginning, striking up an immediate rapport with the crowd and strutting around the stage like a nicer, more innocent (and clothed) Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Halfway through the set, he informed us that the dancing was now to begin in earnest. He was not disappointed.

And how could you not dance to such a fantastic blend of syncopated beats, clean crisp guitar riffs and brilliant synth arpeggios? Just add soaring harmonies and you’ve got a recipe for a Mezzanine packed to the brim with surging kids, limbs flying with little regard for human life.

Yes, the African beat influence is clear. Yes, they owe a lot to Paul Simon (though who doesn’t, really?). But when you deliver a near-perfect show that has the crowd bouncing and smiling from beginning to end, nothing else matters.