Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Stewart Oksenhorn
Vampire Weekend :: 03.20.10 :: Downtown Aspen :: Aspen, CO
Opting to further pursue its characteristic sound, rather than totally reinvent itself, Vampire Weekend has managed to come fully realized with its recent sophomore effort Contra (JamBase review). After the band dropped its eponymous first album, everyone scrutinized the group and couldn't stop comparing the band's sound to Graceland-era Paul Simon and the Talking Heads. But with Contra, the band has managed to rise above the myriad of other New York-based indie rock acts out there and define itself with a representative sound that's well polished, undoubtedly from time on the road.
During the band's westward jaunt on its tour in support of the new album, the Columbia University educated four-piece stopped off in Aspen, Colorado for a Bud Light sponsored free show in the heart of the town's downtown district. Seeing the band perform in freezing temperatures, during winter months, was an interesting way to see the group, and even though all four guys were obviously cold as hell, they stuck it out and played a rowdy show.
The band started off with "White Sky," an upbeat number that perfectly encapsulates the best elements off Contra. The group's penchant for Afrobeat style rhythms was imminently apparent with the pulsating kick drum, and it definitely inspired a livid reaction amongst the crowd. Not paying a dime for admission, as well as the show being an all ages event, created a festival atmosphere and people were getting crowd surfed from the first note played to the last.
Feeling the bitter chill of the Rocky Mountain air and energy of the rambunctious audience, lead singer Ezra Koenig quipped, "Perfect weather for an outdoor show, huh?" Then, before falling into the polyrhythmic friendly tune "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," he said, "If this next song is a little sloppy, it's because our fingers are frozen." The band was clearly feeling the strain of the 20-degree temperatures, but they soldiered on, playing admirably and keeping the audience's attention. The slightly botched and unrefined instrumental solos created a more noisy sound that seemed to rile-up the crowd and work to the band's advantage.
After tearing through a few high-energy songs, the band shifted direction and opted to cover the Ben E. King soul standard "Stand by Me." The doo-wop style song gave the audience an opportunity to breath, and by the second verse the ballad had turned into a sing-along between the band and the crowd.
|Chris Tomson - Vampire Weekend :: 03.20 :: Aspen, CO|
Picking things back up with "Diplomat's Son," it became apparent after watching each member contribute a unique tribal style chant to the song, that every dude in the band is more than capable of pulling his own weight. Koenig is the obvious chieftain with his lead guitar playing and quasi-falsetto voice, but Rostam Batmanglij demonstrated his diversity as a musician as he switched between carefully calculated keyboard arpeggios and delicate rhythm guitar arrangements, while Chris Baio kept up the bottom end on his bass, and drummer Chris Tomson added rhythmic flourishes and impressive one-man syncopation quirks. Playing together, these musicians really complement each other and it's nice not to see one of them hog the spotlight or blatantly call attention to themselves.
The band closed out its set with one of the most accessible songs off Contra, "Giving Up The Gun," but Vampire Weekend seemed cold, tired and worn out by this point, and the tune didn't really live up to the grandiose quality of its studio version. Besides not hitting his marks on guitar, Koenig's voice seemed jarred and off kilter. The song came off very poorly and when all four members hit their last note, they left the stage with the audience questioning the strength of the band.
Luckily, the band mustered enough courage to brave the elements a little longer and got back onstage, thanking the crowd and saying, "This is by far the coldest show we've ever played." The three-song encore was highlighted by "Oxford Comma," one of the group's best known songs and a tune that has become a sort of anthem for the band. Though there were rousing cheers, Vampire Weekend was clearly stoked to get out of the bitter cold, and when the band left the stage, the audience seemed just as excited as the musicians to retreat from the piercing chill.
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