Gig Review: Vampire Weekend At Festival Hall, Melbourne, 6th of January 2014

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The vibes were truly infinite as my friends Ashlee and Paige, and myself made our way to Festival Hall on January 6th to see indie rock New Yorkers Vampire Weekend play their first non-festival show in Melbourne since 2010. After playing Falls and Southbound festivals in Lorne, Byron Bay and Marion Bay over the New Year period, Sydney and Melbourne were lucky enough to get private sideshows before the band headed back to the US.

On the way there our playlist in the car begun with the band’s 2008 prolific self-titled debut LP, followed with their acclaimed second record, 2010’s Contra and ended with last year’s Modern Vampires of the City. As we devoured our dinner of $3 Cheeseburger MacValue meals, we discussed and imagined what events the night would present us with. We shared thoughts on which songs would be played, how our fellow crowd members would react and most importantly, if a meeting with the band after the show would be possible.

Left to right: 'Vampire Weekend' (2008), 'Contra' (2010) and 'Modern Vampires of the City' (2013

Left to right: ‘Vampire Weekend’ (2008), ‘Contra’ (2010) and ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ (2013)

We finally arrived in the city and drove along the road beside the venue where out the front young girls and boys made their true Melbournian hipster-lite presence known. If one thing can be certain about Vampire Weekend, it’s that their popularity literally skyrocketed in 2013 with the release of their masterful third LP Modern Vampires of the City and the deserving appreciation for the four members as true talented musicians. Not to mention the immense love for lead singer Ezra Koenig and his bizarrely relatable twitter account (@azrE), which has produced such gems in the past month alone as:

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As we walked into Festival Hall the crowd was already large and rearing to go. The support act, Triple J unearthed darlings Gang of Youths, arrived on stage and played a set that mixed conventional singles – like the amazing Evangelists and A Sudden Light – with lesser known epic anthems that atmospherically filled up the room.

When the crowd was properly warmed up, it was time for the main affair. With influences from Ivy League peppiness, tribal beats, rhythms and grooves, and nostalgia for post-punk indie pop, Vampire Weekend have used their unique sound to broaden their fan base, which includes people from all ages and music tastes. And this diversity was certainly on show at Festival Hall that night.

A roar from the eager crowd announced the band’s arrival on stage, which was now decorated by a backdrop featuring a vintage floral design in vibrant pinks and greens. Lead singer Ezra Koenig donned a bottle green jumpsuit whilst his band mates, keyboardist Rostam Batmanlij, drummer Chris Tomson and bassist Chris Baio, sported more conventional outfits of jeans/t-shirts/jackets.

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They immediately burst into the lead single from Modern Vampires of the City, the lively rockabilly number Diane Young, which had the crowd instantly dancing along, thriving off the sudden rush of energy that had filled the room.

White Sky and fan favourite Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa followed allowing the audience some perfect moments of sing-along delight, especially in the latter’s chorus which features one of the band’s cheekiest lyrics: “Is your bed made? Is your sweater on? Do you wanna f**k? Like I know you do?” Only Vampire Weekend could get away with a line like that.

The Americana-esque organs of Unbelievers were replicated by Batmanlij with great ease sounding just as full and lively as they do on record. One of their most energetic tracks Holiday made everyone really excited, and then Step made everyone really melancholic as Koenig reminiscently name checked a dozen different places throughout the song’s duration.

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As a pleasant surprise, the next song they chose to perform was Finger Back, my favourite song from MVOTC, making it perhaps the set-highlight of the night for me. Its erratic time signature and delightfully quirky lyrics (“I know that I’ve been wicked and the road to hell is wide. Cursed by curiosity that made us go inside”) were just as appealing live as the hundreds of times I have listened to the recorded version throughout the year.

Contra highlights Horchata, Cousins and California English followed, each bringing forth an enthusiastic reaction in the crowd, and MVOTC masterpiece Everlasting Arms was slotted in amongst the group allowing more focus upon the spiritual side to the band’s music.

No surprise that A-Punk – perhaps their most famous and lively track – produced the biggest cheer from the crowd; it can instantly lift your spirits even within its short span of two minutes. Probably the biggest surprise of the setlist was the inclusion of B-side track Boston (Ladies of Cambridge), which left me feeling like I was within the 1% of audience members who actually knew the song.

The remaining 99% of audience members were elevated by the next hit on the set list, the uplifting ballad Ya Hey which features one hell of a spoken word interlude. Then, through a seamless transition between the preppy Campus and – perhaps Vampire Weekend’s greatest song – Oxford Comma, the band’s true talents were on full display.

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Giving Up the Gun was the first Vampire Weekend song I ever heard. I saw its music video on Saturday morning rage in early 2010 was immediately intrigued by their unique and energetic sound. Played live the song was accompanied not by a drunken Jake Gyllenhaal playing tennis (as it is in the film clip), but rather a dizzying light and laser display, including some disorientating strobe lighting. The slow burning Obvious Bicycle rounded out the first set list, leaving the crowd cheering for more long after the band had left the stage.

Less than a minute later the boys were back on stage and they jumped straight into the encore, beginning with an exquisitely beautiful and rousing rendition of Hannah Hunt, a song that was apparently 7 years in the making before it featured on MVOTC last year.

After some casual banter from Koenig about missing playing in Melbourne and loving Australian crowds, the band finished with two great crowd favourites from their first LP. One (Blake’s Got A New Face) had the audience united through its mimicking chorus. And finally, it was time for the band’s traditional “goodbye song about leaving Cape Cod”, the beautifully electric Walcott, a song that left everyone in the room wanting more.

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As the band members left the stage, the lights came up and the crowd dispersed into a giddy delirium, Sinatra’s New York, New York fittingly bleared over the speakers as an ode to the band’s hometown.

After we left the building, my friends and I thought we’d try our luck at meeting the band members. First we waited along the side of the building with a group of 20 others. After a while, my friends and I were the only ones left waiting and we giddily danced, chatted to the security guards and tour managers, practiced our karate skills and sang harmonised versions of Radiohead’s Creep, M.I.A’s Bad Girls and Frank Ocean’s Thinkin’ About You as we waited for the band’s grand appearance.

We were told numerous times that we were in the wrong spot to meet see them, but we were cocky and thought we’d have an exclusive meeting if they did come out the door along the side of the building. Finally we decided to head to the back of the building where we were confronted with a long line of people all waiting to meet the band.

Paige, Ashlee and I waiting for Ezra.

Paige, Ashlee and I waiting for Ezra.

Almost like fate, just after we lined up Ezra Koenig appeared at the opposite end of the line to us and started to make his way along the crowd of people, signing, chatting and taking those crucial selfies as he went by.

I couldn’t believe it. I had literally had dreams about this moment for years, and as it was 12:30am and I was super delirious from the concert, I thought I really was dreaming. I’d see him walking closer and closer towards us and everytime I saw his face I had to turn to my friends and ask if this really was real. That this was actually going to happen. I was actually going to meet the one and only Ezra Koenig IRL.

Suddenly there were only a few groups left in front of us. One girl asked if he had received her tweets from earlier in the day. He told her that he’d been up to Lygon Street for lunch and had coffee at Brunetti’s, a famous café where – coincidently – my one of my best friends from Uni works. “Oh my God”, I thought “he really is here, he is actually here in Melbourne right now and I’m about to talk to him”.

Ezra Koenig.

Ezra Koenig.

And then all of a sudden it was my turn. He turned away from the group in front of us and smiled right at me, we were looking in each other’s eyes for what seemed like forever because I was so shocked and unable to make my brain move my mouth to say something. Finally I think I said “Hi”, complimented the show and maybe asked him to sign my ticket. He did and I handed my iPod touch to the security woman to take a picture of us. I asked Ezra if he could do the “finger thingy”, and he immediately held up a backwards peace sign close to his chest and pouted; I did a similar thing and our photos were taken.

He smiled at me and began to turn to talk to my friend Ashlee when – before I knew what I was doing – I blurted out a question that I’d been wanting to know the answer to for a while. Or maybe I just asked it because I wanted to say more to him than just: “Hi”, “selfie” and “the show was amazing”.

“What is your favourite movie?” I asked him.

“Of all time?” he queried back.

“Yeah, of all time.” I said.

“Well,” he began, “you know, it changes all the time. But a movie I have always really liked since I was a teenager, and one that would be the closest to being my favourite is probably Rushmore”.

It took me a while to register what he was saying. Right, Rushmore, that makes sense.

“Oh Wes Anderson”, I said like it was news to me that he directed it, “that’s cool”.

I was feeling like an absolute idiot but I was also so happy I actually asked him a question that wasn’t about coffee shops or twitter or Australia. I actually just kind of had a conversation with Ezra Koenig, and let me tell you, he is even more beautiful and perfect in real person than any over-photoshopped photo on Tumblr.

The most important photo in my life: Ezra and I.

The most important photo in my life: Ezra and I.

After Ashlee and Paige had their pictures taken/talked to him, the security guards herded us off and we started walking back to the car. When we were around the corner I let out a mighty “Yawp” that would have made Mr. Keating from (one of my favourite movies) Dead Poets Society immensely proud.

We skipped and danced our way back to the car whilst triumphantly singing a spirited performance of Nelly Furtardo’s I’m Like A Bird because that’s how we truly felt, like we could just fly away from pure happiness and adrenalin. We were so incredibly happy and in complete and utter shock that what just happened actually did occur in real life. Not only was the concert itself spectacular and one of the best I’ve ever been to, but the experience I had afterwards will stay with me for a long time to come.

FULL SETLIST:

  1. Diane Young
  2. White Sky
  3. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
  4. Unbelievers
  5. Holiday
  6. Step
  7. Finger Back
  8. Horchata
  9. Everlasting Arms
  10. Cousins
  11. California English
  12. A-Punk
  13. Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)
  14. Ya Hey
  15. Campus
  16. Oxford Comma
  17. Giving Up the Gun
  18. Obvious Bicycle
  19. Hannah Hunt 
[Encore]
  20. One (Blake’s Got a New Face) 
[Encore]
  21. Walcott [Encore]
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