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ND student catches a Vampire Weekend concert in Berlin

Colin Rich | Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Germany embraced a different VW this weekend — an American export that proved just as polished, just as quick and perhaps more dependable than anything circuiting the autobahn of late.

Vampire Weekend took center stage in East Berlin Friday night as the band continued its month-long European tour. The tour includes 19 stops in all and will wrap up before March in preparation for a similar series of shows in the U.S.

Vampire Weekend burst onto the college music scene in early 2008 with their self-titled debut. They grew to alternative prominence as a Brooklyn-based indie band characterized by Afro-pop melodies, orchestral backing and lead singer Ezra Koenig’s Paul Simon-like wail. With the recent release of their critically acclaimed second album, “Contra,” the band ruptured its bag of cross-cultural influences and clean guitar sound and poured out an album with, if possible, far more contours and charm than its predecessor.

I am an admittedly mild Vampire Weekend fan for a couple of reasons, the first of which is a question in their music that suggests they lack an identity. Their youth (an even more pronounced realization in person) and their eclectic array of genres, instruments and stylistic nuances epitomize a band that tosses a lot at its listeners with the hope that something different will resonate with everyone.

Two albums down, Vampire Weekend covers much ground in terms of sound and theme, but a difference exists between confident musicianship and youthful expression. The second reason lies in the fleeting nature of success in the race of alternative rock, and a question of the band’s staying power. Vampire Weekend came into 2010 in the indie music pole position with its collegiate niche well established, its music surfacing in TV ads and movie soundtracks and its name splashed across most music magazines.

However, this means little to an expedient music world where “What’s next?” unfortunately often trumps “What lasts?” (e.g. Has anybody seen The Shins in three years?)

This all only serves to provide the backdrop for the exciting, engaging and impressively enjoyable live show Vampire Weekend put on last Friday in Berlin. Their steady set oscillated between their new and newer material, and the packed “haus” to which they played responded with vigorous delight.

Built on quick-hitting singles, neither debut, “Vampire Weekend” nor “Contra,” ostensibly offer the balladry from which to launch a full-on live jam, however the show hit all of the two album’s highlights and concluded with a smooth blend of “Campus” and “Oxford Comma.”
Especially noteworthy performances included a foot-stomping “M79,” a wandering and wild “Walcott” in the encore and a rousing rendition of “Boston,” a VW piece from one of their earliest EPs. Koenig still needs to grow into his skin in terms of a commanding stage presence, but endeared himself to the audience with his boyishness and infectious energy.
Vampire Weekend’s Columbia-educated background and upper-class aesthetics easily lends itself to criticism from tortured, anti-establishment music purists, but the aura of pretension that surrounds the band proved negligible.

Yes, they’re rich and white, but so are the Beastie Boys. Yes, they sing about grammatical conjunctions and escaping their troubled lives in Cape Cod, but it smacks of disingenuousness and at least it translates into an undeniably fun sound. Coldplay, Oasis, Kasabian … plenty of seemingly working-class bands are pretentious and act humble, but VW’s lyrical and thematic self-awareness, in addition to their lustrous pop veneer, made the show an altogether satisfying experience.

To a moderate fan, the show exceeded expectations, and all loyal Weekenders would do well to try and catch their upcoming show circuit in the United States.

Colin Rich is a junior studying abroad in Rome. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.