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Vampire Weekend captivates Chicago crowd

Marissa Frobes | Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Indie rock band Vampire Weekend played two sold-out shows at the Riviera Theater in Chicago this weekend. Touring for their new album “Contra,” which premiered at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in January, the group from New York City riled up the young crowd for over two hours.

With the band running on stage to a Jock Jams song, a black curtain fell to reveal the “Contra” album cover: a headshot of a blonde donning a preppy white polo, with eyes that glowed different colors throughout the show.

The set-list started with “White Sky,” one of the upbeat tunes from their new album. Front man Ezra Koenig immediately had all the teenage girls, with their spots staked out close to the stage, screaming with his spastic dance moves.

The group has been growing in popularity since the release of their first self-produced album, “Vampire Weekend,” which debuted in January 2008. Comprised of four Columbia graduates, the band experienced much success with the tracks from this debut, any of which are featured on the soundtracks for movies such as “Step Brothers” and “I Love You, Man.”

Music careers are a nice change of pace for the group of friends who had all been working full-time jobs after graduating in 2006 from Columbia University. Their music fuses African pop with Western, New England preppiness to create the college anthems sung in every dorm room in the U.S.

But the Ivy League graduates create lyrically intricate songs: The hit “Oxford Comma” speaks against “linguistic imperialism,” as Koenig told Bwog, the online partner to Columbia’s undergraduate magazine “The Blue and White.”

The set-list for the Chicago show included the majority of both albums, making the crowd extremely spirited. Everyone knew the whole new album and head-bopped accordingly, but the venue turned into a legitimate mosh pit during classics such as “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”

Koenig told everyone to take a deep breath before playing another old song “Bryn” because he demanded the whole crowd keep moving for the entire two-minute-long jam.
About half way through the concert, six chandeliers lowered from the ceiling, possibly to pay homage to the “Vampire Weekend” album cover. Their flashing lights combined with the eyes glowing red of the “Contra” cover girl created the hype the band was asking for. Screaming the lyrics to “One,” Koenig asked how angry the crowd could get as we chanted “Blake’s got a new face!” over and over. They got angry — anything for Ezra.

Some of the other highlights from the concert were the first single “Cousins,” “Holiday,” which details the dream of a summer vacation, and the winter-drinking song “Horchata.” Still, the crowd was at its prime for the band’s older hits. The Riviera radiated “college” when Vampire Weekend played “Campus,” which Koenig dedicated to all the “students out there.”

Before the band’s encore, the crowd begged for “one more song!” and when not immediately pacified moved onto asking for a heftier finale of “10 more songs, 10 more songs!” They got two: a new song and “Walcott,” apparently their traditional closing song.
Despite this rousing show and enthusiastic audience, the band has been receiving a lot of flack from critics who hear a strong resemblance between “Contra” and Paul Simon’s 1986 hit album “Graceland.” The band denies any replication of Simon’s album, but the artists do cite similar African pop influences, which may account for their similarities.

Still, the house was packed in Chicago, and the band is in the throws of a huge North American tour. There are no signs of slowing down for these city boys. Everyone left exhilarated Friday night, thanks to the buoyant performance of the foursome.

Check out their music video for their newest single, “Giving Up the Gun” (surprisingly left out of the Chicago set-list Friday), which features cameos by Joe Jonas, Jake Gyllenhaal and Lil’ Jon to name a few.

Is the Indie band selling out? See for yourself, but the “underdog prevails” message of the video sticks true to the VW persona.