A chilly Tuesday saw Vampire Weekend’s San Francisco arrival for the Bay Area stop on its “Father of the Bride” tour. On the heels of a widely praised new album of the same name, complete with a new touring lineup, the modern vampires of indie asserted their place as genre mainstays with a rich and powerful show.
Between opener Soccer Mommy’s delightful melancholy and the headliner’s first appearance, classical music drifted across the venue — which would seem out of place only if one is unfamiliar with the band. The melodies reigned as relics of the university hall bureaucracy, white-boys-in-boat-shoes kind of association the band’s aesthetic and reception has cultivated. That old omnipresent East Coast Ivy League-steeped classism that haunts most of Vampire Weekend’s discography stuck to every stringed crescendo as it fell on the auditorium.
15 minutes to show time and there were more bodies in the auditorium than there was empty floor space.
A clip art-like globe, hung at the rear of the stage and lit up in sharp blues, stood as the iconography of the indie titan’s most recent record, Father of the Bride. That, plus a handful of raised platforms, (two drum sets and a three-sided keyboard setup, complete with a grand piano) made for a pretty bare stage. But there was a clear intentionality within the setup.
The band marched on stage like a collegiate processional, and the crowd lost its mind.
The show began with “Sunflower.” With a precise and dreamlike frolicking of the opening notes, frontman Ezra Koenig played off of recent addition to the touring lineup Brian Robert Jones — the pair going guitar-to-guitar in a tone-establishing playfulness that exploded in audience excitement. While Steve Lacy’s gentle scatting was missed, band members compensated for the absence. And the crowd was more than able to offer a few “deboodeboode’s” in his place.
The band followed the single with an ethereal and rock-rooted outro, with Jones, tie-dye shirt in tow, making the most of the moment. Kaleidoscopic hues bathed the venue in a clear declaration of Jones’ expert contribution, and, justifiably, the crowd ate it up.
The guitarist-centered move poised the show as a statement — this isn’t your older brother’s Vampire Weekend.
As Koenig once again went head-to-head with Jones, it was all the GarageBand-esque glory that you wish you witnessed when the band first rose to fame. The era before the mythology that defines them now became synonymous with their name. So it was fitting that outcast anthem “Unbelievers” followed.
There was an undercurrent of electricity born from the magnitude of the show that flowed through the entire set list — an excitement that only amped up when Koenig admitted to this show being their first in San Francisco in six years. It imbued the show with a kind of urgency associated with treating fans to a comprehensive tour of the band’s catalog. Vampire Weekend came ready to deliver exactly this.
When the group ping-ponged from “Holiday” to “Bambina,” this was evident. The latter track, one of their newest songs, would feel right at home on both “Vampire Weekend” and “Modern Vampires of the City.” The song played out like the perfect battleground for those two styles — a perfect introduction to a new era for the band.
And still there was a kind of silliness, a clear enjoyment of the music, that grounded the performance. Be it bassist Chris Baio’s funky wiggling on “How Long?” or the paternal and back-in-my-day-like treatment of “Rich Man,” the band was able to play to the strengths of their recognizability while straining in the confines of the box that kind of success could have put them in.
A playfully thrown in cover of Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman,” a nod to past collaborations with Sbtrkt’s “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” and Major Lazer’s “Jessica,” all seamlessly thrown in with heavy hitters like “Cousins” and “Diane Young” were markers of a band well aware of its longevity, its stylistic diversity and its mastery of discographic cohesion.
After a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pause before its encore, a pause that the audience cheered all the way through, Koenig asked for some requests to close the show out. “Walcott” and “2021” were thrown out and reciprocated in stride, and finally the band arrived at its true closers: a wild and vibrant “Worship You” and a gentler conclusion with “Ya Hey.” All of these created a microcosm of ebb and flow that perfectly captured the essence of the show.
In returning to older hits as a wrap-up, Vampire Weekend offered a career-defining performance and made it clear that next time the band comes through San Francisco, in a shorter time frame than six years, as Koenig assured, it’ll probably do it again.
Highlights: “Sympathy,” “Cousins,” “Worship You”
Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].