16 year-old me would’ve loved the idea of watching Vampire Weekend for 7-hours. 16 year-old me, however, probably couldn’t have imagined a 27 year-old me investing that sort of time into them. And yet, I did. Vampire Weekend celebrated the release of their fourth album Father Of The Bride by playing three sets over the course of a day in New York, the city that built them. They played the new album in full, plus two sets full of hits, covers and rarities in a display that proved the band are not only still relevant but also one one of the tightest live bands around right now.
The odds of Vampire Weekend surviving the ’00s were not good. Critics have always been on their side but there was always a resounding question mark over the extent of sarcasm in their music. Their debut album showcased a preppy, Ivy League-graduate band with lyrics like, “who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?” It was on the nose, yes, but over time it’s become clear that frontman Ezra Koenig wasn’t glorifying the wealth-driven world it depicted but rather critiquing it. It’s a depth and self-awareness that has seen them outlast peers like Passion Pit and Grizzly Bear whose popularity has dropped since spiking around the ’00s indie/alternative surge.
11 years after their debut album, Vampire Weekend find themselves at New York’s Webster Hall, not playing anniversary shows but celebrating their first album in six years alongside their greatest hits. What was clear from the outset is that Koenig is unconcerned with turning Vampire Weekend into a legacy band. He’s pushing it forward, shattering questions of relevancy along the way.
The band had fans up early on Sunday morning, ready to start a marathon day – the band’s longest show ever. The idea fits with the notion that the band is slowly turning into a jam band. Ezra and co seem to be fine with that, almost intentionally tipping their hat to notorious jam band The Grateful Dead who in their time have played sets well over six hours. Official merch for the day confirmed this by paying homage to a Grateful Dead invitation to a rare 1975 show.
After serving bagels, the band took to the stage for the first set of the day, easing weary-eyed punters into it with a wistful cover of Velvet Underground’s Sunday Morning. As complicated as Koenig can be, he’s never been afraid to be obvious and opening the show with Sunday Morning followed by Obvious Bicycles’ “Morning’s come, you watch the red sunrise.” For a band that have sometimes felt restless, this set was remarkably comfortable. They delved into covers from Fleetwood Mac to Bob Dylan, even admitting they have “two songs” that sound like Paul Simon before breaking into Simon’s Late In The Evening. This was a moment for die-hard fans but it was also a day for the band to enjoy – self-indulgent at points and victorious at other points.
While many bands of Vampire Weekend’s vintage are now playing their classic albums in full, Ezra and co gave Father Of The Bride the full live treatment, debuting many of the songs for the first time. Danielle Haim, who features at numerous points on the record was present from the beginning, bringing to life some of the album’s best moments. Koenig and Haim opened the set with Hold You Now, a country-tinged ballad centred around a wedding day. They have a sort of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty chemistry together, adopting characters but also keeping it heartfelt and light-hearted. The pairing was never more endearing than when Haim sang at Koenig, “I thought you might learn to sing,” with the pair both breaking into smiles. Vampire Weekend have always been mildly funny but always with a critical eye. It’s nice to hear them have a laugh for no reason.
It’s that sort of contentment that makes Father Of The Bride so different to their other albums. It’s difficult to make comfort sound appealing, particularly following your darkest and most critical album, but they’ve done it with album number four. Ezra is now in his mid-30s and a father. On-stage, he seems more relaxed than ever – happy to look inwards for inspiration rather than trying to make sense of everything outside of his immediate control. That gives way to light-stepping, romantic songs like Sympathy and We Belong Together. Live, they sound springy giving the same sort of energy you thought most of the songs on their debut album had before dissecting the lyrics.
Father Of The Bride sounds great live. It’s a stage-ready album, full of organic instrumentation and space for improvisation. Vampire Weekend look full of life performing it. Ezra and bassist Chris Baio were particularly in their element expanding on Big Blue with a grandiose, rock ‘n’ roll outro or jamming out to Sunflower as they turned it into a woozy epic far beyond the quaint version that appears on the album. At one point Ezra looked up into the crowd to ask producer Ariel Rechtshaid what he thought of the new “rock” version of Sunflower. How they had the energy to give the songs more life during a seven-hour set is beyond us but they seem genuinely energised by the album. Even intimate, heart-tapping moments like closer Jerusalem, New York, Berlin were given a little extra as the band took its bubbling beat and sweeping piano, taking it into another realm.
After a hearty pizza lunch from one of New York’s finest pizza haunts Stromboli, the band returned for a victory lap of sorts pumping out almost every song from their previous three records. Rather than showing fatigue, Koenig was enthused that the band had enough material now to do something like this. The best part about it is they seem proud of what they’ve done in the past rather than haunted by it like many bands. Every song off the debut album got an airing, injecting short, sharp bursts of energy into the occasion with songs like Walcott and, of course, A-Punk. It’s interesting to hear these songs alongside ones like Modern Vampires’ Hannah Hunt which feels far more refined and considered.
As they got to the end of the final set they returned for an encore that left a weary but elated crowd more energetic than ever before. They played a cover of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town, relishing in the obviousness of playing that while returning to New York. That was followed by a racing version of the already quick Worship You which saw Ezra embracing an inner-Busta Rhymes tempo. Longtime friend Dev Hynes was introduced to the stage for Ya Hey for a goosebump moment at the end of a great day for the band. It’s odd to find such euphoria in existentialism but that’s always been Vampire Weekend’s strange talent.
Questions surrounding Vampire Weekend’s relevancy may be more rife than ever but the band seem the least concerned about it than they ever have. Their seven-hour show was as much for the band as it was for the fans. It was a moment for them to celebrate their catalogue while also relishing in their confidence as a live band. Not only do Vampire Weekend exist in 2019 but, in many respects, they’re better than ever.