Vampire Weekend @ United Palace Theater, NYC

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Photo by Natasha Ryan. More at Metromix

In the middle of "Taxi Cab", all waterfall piano and drum machine and harpsichord, something at Ezra Koenig’s feet lights him from below like a child with a flashlight beneath his chin telling ghost stories – his are about class and aristocracy and heartbreak. His shadow is huge on the image of his band’s second album behind him, one foot tapping. In my pocket my pen has started leaking ink and I try to clean it up with my fingers and look at the stage at the same time. This song is something important – my brother is dancing, swaying, somewhat drunkenly, having never heard this song before, to my right, it is very dark in this giant and cavernous theater, and though the music is very loud everyone is very quiet, swaying, silently transfixed. "Taxi Cab" is a song that flows over you like water. Ezra is tapping his foot and tapping his foot and in his giant shadow every infinitesimal motion is huge, powerful, vital. I am panicking because my pen has exploded in the pocket of my brand new dress and as a result my attempt to make note of the setlist has failed and this is the ninth time I am seeing a band that I love and I will be damned if it is ruined by my pen exploding in my pocket.

I managed to save my dress, but I don’t remember what they played after "Taxi Cab." It was something huge and something I had to dance to, and I think it might have been "Cousins" but I don’t know, and it might not matter because I’m not sure if I can accurately describe this show to you by relating how I felt about each song in their setlist in order as it went on. They opened with "White Sky," one of the best songs they’ve ever written. Then "Holiday," fast and dancy and skittering in the dark, and then "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," and as Vampire Weekend fans are, wont to do all three-thousand people in Washington Heights’ beautiful and ornate and ancient United Palace Theater yelled at the top of their lungs, whether they were thirteen or nineteen or thirty-six, “Do you want to fuck, like you know I do?” I don’t remember any precise order after that.

Photo by Natasha Ryan. More at Metromix

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This is a band at the top of their game. Contra, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore record (PMA gave it a solid 79, Pitchfork a nice 8.6, Spin an eight out of ten, Rolling Stone a four out of five), is five days old and fantastic, ten songs that take their tried-and-true formula and push it, not too much but not too little. Two years ago I saw Vampire Weekend play Bowery Ballroom the night their self-titled record was released and the crowd sang every song so loudly I couldn’t hear them play. In 2010 Vampire Weekend have more fans and a better sound guy and a giant print of the vacant, surprised face of an enigmatic girl named Kirsten behind them and – the best part – more songs.

And they’re good songs, the kind that work well live and make you dance even if you’ve never heard them. Autotune, crisp staccato notes, string section, Chris Baio on an upright bass, M.I.A. samples, eighties-ish synth, “oh no he did not” lyrics like Diplomat’s Son’s fantastic “I’m gonna take it from Simon / and I’m gonna cut it where I can,” ska, two guitars, surf drums – all of it reproduced with incredible, precise accuracy. Not to say there aren’t hiccups – they have to restart Diplomat’s Son about four seconds in, and the tempo changes in the middle aren’t as smooth as they could be. “New shit,” Ezra says, by way of explanation – you believe him, because you have to, and you want to, and he’s just used the word “minutiae,” and he’s just explained that this is the longest show Vampire Weekend has ever played. They play all but one song on both their records, and Ottoman, the harpsichord-laden breakup ballad that wound up on a film soundtrack. Twenty songs from two albums equals a ridiculous amalgamation of genres: the surf/ska riffing on "Cousins," orchestral songs like "M79," reggae-ish "Diplomat’s Son," African rhythms on  "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." They close with "Walcott," all that energy in the drums and piano line and the trill of the guitar and everyone yells “Don’t you wanna get out of Cape Cod?” dancing, smiling, ecstatic.

Photo by Natasha Ryan. More at Metromix

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Vampire Weekend have been derided for words, for rhyming “horchata” with “balaclava” and “duty free” with “wine and Hennessey,” name-checking fonts, citing Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – “contra mundum,” in "California English" – but what they have the ability to do can barely be said. As evidenced in the chorus of "White Sky," arguably their best song, six-beat Africana about an epiphany in a museum, sometimes you are so happy that there are no words to describe it, even with an English major’s vocabulary. None of these things matter. The set order doesn’t matter. Accusations of cultural imperialism don’t matter. What color plaid they wore doesn’t matter. What matters is how it was raining outside and cold and January, and we all smiled, without cease or pause or relief, for an hour and a half.