Live: Vampire Weekend at Webster Hall

01/19/2010 1:22 PM |

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The guy I was standing next to had seen Led Zeppelin play at Madison Square Garden in 1976. Now he was at Webster Hall seeing Vampire Weekend, the bona fide rock stars of 2010. With neatly trimmed hair. And collared shirts. And a string quartet. And, like every hugely popular rock band in the history of music, a lead singer with the innate ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Ezra oozed showmanship, with every awkward dance move, every subtle bow, and every emphatic move of his right hand, punching the air with the erratic rise and falls of his clear-blue voice. The kid plays, sings and speaks with conviction. There’s equal parts charm and schmaltz at work too. “We’re going to need your help on this next one…,” he said, explaining the call-and-response role on “One (Blake’s Got a New Face).”

I don’t know how it was back in 2007 when they were slumming it in Brooklyn, playing weeknight gigs at Glasslands, but it was clear last night that the four boys of Vampire Weekend were there to strictly entertain—and I mean that as 90 percent compliment and maybe 10 percent insult. Against the backdrop of a floor-to-ceiling picture of their new album, Contra, they played, like well-oiled machines, a set consisting of almost all their recorded material. “Are you surprised we’re still onstage?” Ezra asked about an hour-and-half into it. “‘Cause we only have two albums.” Then he pasued. “Thank you for joining us on this odyssey… of growing up.” That last part is important. Despite the slightest sense that they were going through the motions here and there , there seemed to be mutual acknowledgement that this show was a Big Deal (asking prices on Craigslist reached $200; Bowery Presents made it will-call only to cut down on scalpers).

The band knew this. I’ve never seen bassist Chris Baio look like he was having so much fun, dancing in circles, doing this high-footed prance thing like a flamingo. The crowd—a mix of ages, devoted and sweaty—confirmed this. They danced to “A-Punk,” “Cousins,” “Mansard Roof” and show closer “Walcott” to the point where the floor of Webster Hall felt like a trampoline, forcing you into the air whether you were jumping or not. That’s what happens when major rock stars play to a hometown crowd days after releasing an excellent new album, apparently.

Click through for some videos from the show.

Opener “White Sky”:

A classic:

“Taxi Cab,” where an upright bass and drum machine made an appearance: